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USAASA's new CEO confident in stability

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USAASA has not been fully recognised as one of the key strategic developmental agencies of government, says CEO Lumko Mtimde.
USAASA has not been fully recognised as one of the key strategic developmental agencies of government, says CEO Lumko Mtimde.

Newly-appointed Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) CEO Lumko Mtimde is confident of stabilising the state-owned enterprise.

Mtimde was officially appointed at the helm of the agency last month, taking over from Zami Nkosi, whose contract was not renewed after it expired.

In an exclusive interview with ITWeb, Mtimde said his immediate goal was to stabilise the organisation, create an enabling environment for staff and customers, as well as "improve efficiencies, financial management, accountability, and ensure there are proper internal control measures in place to ensure good corporate governance".

USAASA is a state-owned entity established through the Electronic Communications Act to ensure "every man, woman and child whether living in the remote areas of the Kalahari or in urban areas of Gauteng can be able to connect, speak, explore and study using ICTs".

It is also in charge of overseeing SA's multibillion-rand digital TV set-top box rollout. However, the project has been shrouded in controversy after the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favour of Etv and declared the Department of Communications' "digital migration policy unlawful and invalid and is accordingly set aside".

Key institution

However, the ruling was made before Mtimde's tenure.

The agency previously came under fire for failing to deliver, abuse of funds, low staff morale and high CEO churn, among other issues.

"My immediate goal is to create a machinery that will drive the implementation of the strategic and annual performance plan," he said. "The long-term goal is to position the agency strategically as a key institution in delivering broadband connectivity in an integrated manner to ensure an affordable and sustainable broadband service to indigent communities and remote rural areas.

"We seek to ensure USAASA provides thought leadership in terms of providing universal access to broadband for all citizens in SA."

He pointed out that for USAASA to be able to provide direct impact in underserved communities, it needs to ensure public schools, technical vocational schools, primary health facilities, social institutions and police stations are connected to broadband, thereby enhancing service delivery and public accountability.

"Lastly, we want to see USAASA as a central repository for all information pertaining to universal service and access to ICTs, as this will assist the agency in the facilitation of its mandate to achieve universality goals to broadband."

He said he will be working very close with the USAASA board in reviewing the governance and organisational structure of the agency to ensure all the board committees are functional and are effectively providing their oversight responsibilities.

"I will ensure USAASA fully complies with legislative and regulatory frameworks, as that is a key step towards good governance. We will support the proactive participation of the audit and risk committee to ensure all the internal control measures in place are adequate so as to avoid wasteful and irregular expenditure. I will actively monitor the risk register on a continuous basis and provide mitigation plans to avoid wasteful expenditure.

"My well-documented corporate governance and management experience in the public sector as an executive will come in very handy in this regard, as in most of the state-owned entities and public entities of which I have fully served either as a board member or a CEO, and this particular experience spans over a period of 20 years."

Government agenda

According to Mtimde, one of the main challenges facing USAASA is that it has not been fully recognised as one of the key strategic developmental agencies of government, which must drive government's developmental agenda.

The other challenge is in reflecting on how best the agency contributes to the achievement of the country's plans in respect of the broadcasting digital migration and the growth of the broadcasting industry, in the public interest, he noted.

He believes USAASA has to develop concrete strategic plans and business cases so as to unlock the adequate funding.

"Work has already been done by USAASA in terms of defining the needy and underserviced areas; understanding the state of connectivity in the country; and therefore enabling us, guided by SA Connect, to develop a convincing plan for universal service and access in our country."

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