Mixed grades for ICT ministers

Minister Faith Muthambi failed to impress yet again, receiving an F on the DA's Cabinet report card.
Read time 5min 10sec
Minister Faith Muthambi failed to impress yet again, receiving an F on the DA's Cabinet report card.

The Democratic Alliance's (DA's) latest Cabinet report card slams president Jacob Zuma and ministers for poor performance and another year of failing the people.

Released to the public yesterday, the DA's report card is an annual overview of the performance of the president, deputy president and the 35 Cabinet ministers, both individually and collectively.

On the basis of this assessment, the president, deputy president and Cabinet ministers are scored on a scale from "A" to "F". Thirteen Cabinet ministers received an F/F- score, 10 were given an E/E-, eight received a D/D-, four were given a C and only two scored a B.

Failing to impress for the second year in a row is communications minister Faith Muthambi, who received an F in this year's report card. Telecoms and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, who is in charge of the country's universal access agenda, received a lacklustre E.

Meanwhile, Zuma's scandal-filled year saw him receive the lowest possible grade, an F-.

The DA says this year's report card reflects a wholly-unaccountable government that prioritises the narrow political interests of the African National Congress (ANC) ahead of the needs of the country and its people.

"The ANC government has done little to mitigate rising unemployment, the devastating impact of state capture on our frail economy, a drought which has threatened food security, numerous attacks on free media, the crisis our higher education institutions are facing, or the threat to the independence and integrity of Constitutional bodies, like the National Prosecuting Authority and the Office of the Public Protector."

Faith flunks

Last year, the DA ranked Muthambi as one of the worst performing ministers in Zuma's Cabinet, and the communication minister's score has not improved.

Since taking charge of the newly-established communications department in 2014, Muthambi has been criticised for losing focus on the Department of Communications' main objective.

Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele has a narrow developmental state approach, says the DA Cabinet report.
Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele has a narrow developmental state approach, says the DA Cabinet report.

Factors such as the delay in the implementation of the digital migration project, ongoing litigation over the technical specifications of set-top boxes, the mismanagement at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and calls by her to police South African media have not helped the situation.

The DA explains: "Minister Muthambi's tenure at the communications department has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.

"Minister Muthambi's bungling of the digital migration programme will mean the five million identified indigent households cannot benefit from the promised set-top boxes. The minister's biggest policy failure this year, again, has been the SABC."

The DA also notes the minister failed to ensure the SABC's Hlaudi Motsoeneng was suspended and that an independent disciplinary inquiry into his fitness to hold office was held.

ICT flops

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services' Cwele was given the same rating as last year: an E.

According to the DA, Cwele lacks an appreciation of the dynamic and innovative nature of the ICT sector and its needs.

"He has a narrow developmental state approach and believes ICT's focus is the 'social good' rather than economic growth and cash generation, its spinoffs for the fiscus and development."

Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor is one of only two Cabinet ministers to score a B.
Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor is one of only two Cabinet ministers to score a B.

Two critical policy initiatives that promised to energise IT-enabled government service delivery and propel SA into becoming a continental knowledge economy leader have collapsed under the minister's oversight, says the opposition party.

"SA Connect, government's bold broadband rollout plan to deliver fast and affordable Internet to the entire nation by 2020, has failed to start because the tender specifications for the network service provider were so onerous no one qualified and Telkom, the Cabinet's preferred bidder, did not submit a bid. So, it's back to the drawing board to determine how best to rollout this project that is almost two years behind schedule.

"The much-anticipated National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, gazetted in October, differs in critical aspects with its previous iterations that were the product of years of public participation. Its plan for a national wireless open access network is an untested concept.

"His conflict - and dogged refusal to compromise - with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa over the allocation of high-demand spectrum is likely to head to the Constitutional Court, further delaying the use of this essential resource by broadband-starved South Africans."

Cabinet stars

It should be noted it has not been all "doom and gloom" inside Cabinet, says the DA.

According to the report card, a few ministers deserve credit for their good performance in comparison to their peers.

For the third consecutive year, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor scored a B, the highest score given to a Cabinet minister, states the DA.

"Her department has a clear direction and strategy; it consistently hits its targets, and is well-managed. She is also one of the only Cabinet members who regularly attend Parliamentary sittings."

Also making the best performer list is finance minister Pravin Gordhan, with a B rating.

"Despite having both hands tied behind his back and thus being unable to effect structural reform to boost economic growth and create jobs, minister Gordhan has committed to a 'prudent, sustainable fiscal policy trajectory' aimed at reducing expenditure, raising revenue, managing fiscal risks at state-owned enterprises in order to close the budget deficit, achieve a primary surplus and stabilise debt.

"He must also be commended for staving off what would have been an economically devastating sovereign ratings downgrade from Standard & Poor's. The minister did this while having a politically-motivated criminal investigation levelled against him. Lastly, under his watch, National Treasury is generally well-run, having received an unqualified audit opinion with findings for 2016/17."

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
IT in government editor

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba is the IT in government editor at ITWeb. She reports on tech initiatives, policies and digital transformation strategies in government, banking and education. She holds an Honours degree in Journalism from Rhodes University. Behind that smile, she is plotting how best to get government officials to respond to her emails before deadline :)

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