Career Moves

USAASA CEO makes quiet exit

Read time 4min 30sec
The DTPS did not renew Zami Nkosi's contract as CEO of the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA.
The DTPS did not renew Zami Nkosi's contract as CEO of the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA.

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) is under the leadership of an acting CEO.

This was recently revealed during a portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services meeting in Parliament, where it came to light that Zami Nkosi is no longer CEO of USAASA.

Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn says the decision by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) not to renew Nkosi's contract came as a surprise to the portfolio committee.

Shinn explains the portfolio committee found out Nkosi's contract was not renewed when it noticed his name was omitted from the contingent presenting USAASA's strategic and performance plan for the 2016/17 financial year.

"We had to ask why he [Nkosi] was not there, as the department did not volunteer the information. All the DDG of state-owned company oversight, Omega Shelembe, said was his contract was not renewed. No reason was given," she explains.

Communications specialist at USAASA, Keitumetse Hlahatsi, told ITWeb the agency's "current policy and practice dictates that on the expiry of the CEO's contact, a recruitment process needs to be undertaken and is therefore not automatic that the contract is renewed or extended".

Hlahatsi confirmed Nkosi's contract expired on 31 March.

Questionable appointment

The state-owned agency was established to help roll out universal connectivity with government and private sector partnerships. The agency is also handling the tender process for the production of set-top boxes (STBs) intended for SA's digital migration process.

However, the parastatal was previously the subject of allegations of mismanagement and corrupt activities, including the appointment of Nkosi.

Nkosi landed the CEO role in 2013, after he was appointed by then communications minister Dina Pule. His appointment was widely criticised following allegations that Nkosi was hired irregularly.

Following his appointment, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) moved to investigate allegations that Pule ignored normal recruitment processes in hiring Nkosi, and that she overlooked other shortlisted candidates for the job. The SIU called for Nkosi to leave his post.

Despite this, Nkosi stayed in his role until the DTPS did not renew his contract.

According to Shinn, Nkosi had the complex task of managing the planning for the logistically challenging roll out of the STBs for digital migration against exceptionally difficult odds: lack of funds, policy uncertainty, and legal challenges to Cabinet's decision on the encryption issue.

"My criticism of him was that he was not open about the bizarre way in which the manufacturers of the STBs were chosen. The initial tender was issued just before the Christmas holidays in 2014, and closed in early January. The deadline had to be extended to allow for those who were on holiday to submit tenders. Then 26 names were chosen, and from those, three were given orders to produce the STBs. All of this was done in secrecy - that is, no media announcements, notices obscurely placed on USAASA Web sites. He did not seem to understand it was necessary to make all the decisions in the glare of the public as there were ? and still are ? suspicions the project was likely to be corrupted," explains Shinn.

Where to next?

Nkosi's exit follows the resignation of another high-profile member at USAASA. Last year, board chairperson Pumla Radebe resigned under unclear circumstances.

At the time of her resignation, USAASA said there was no immediate replacement but that DTPS minister Siyabonga Cwele was engaged in a meeting with the agency's leaders to find a replacement.

According to Hlahatsi, Makhotso Moiloa is the agency's acting CEO. "We envisage having a new CEO within a month or two."

She explains: "The process of appointing a new CEO was started in February. The advert was published on 7 February 2016 and subsequently a short-listing process was conducted, leading to a shortlist of suitable candidates being reviewed by an appointed committee of the board. The final interviews were conducted by the board to identify the most suitable candidate.

"Following that process, our corporate service business unit will do the necessary vetting of qualifications and reference checking. As we speak, the process is completed."

USAASA is much improved on what it was when Nkosi took over, according to Shinn. "The auditor-general's reports over the past three years show an improvement."

However, "there is still an unacceptably high level of wasteful expenditure and this will be the major challenge of the new CEO. She or he will need to continue to improve USAASA's performance and fight for its share of the SA Connect work and budget so it can deliver on its mandate of bringing under-serviced areas into SA's connected community," she explains.

ITWeb's efforts to get a hold of Nkosi were unsuccessful by the time of publication.

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