Call for Rubben Mohlaloga to resign from ICASA

The final decision to remove the ICASA chairperson from his post has to be adopted by the National Assembly.
The final decision to remove the ICASA chairperson from his post has to be adopted by the National Assembly.

The effort to now remove Rubben Mohlaloga from his post as chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) council is a case of trying to corral the bolted horse back into the stable.

Former ICASA council chairpersons:
  • Mandla Langa, chairperson (2000 to June 2005)
  • Paris Mashile, chairperson (2005 to June 2010)
  • Stephen Mncube, chairperson (2010 to June 2015)
  • Rubben Mohlaloga, acting chairperson (June 2016 to September 2017)
  • Paris Mashile, acting chairperson (September 2017 to November 2017)
  • Rubben Mohlaloga, chairperson (December 2017 to date)

ICT policy and regulatory expert Charley Lewis says given that fraud allegations were hanging over Mohlaloga's head, they should have been part of the public scrutiny process undertaken by Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications, before the appointment shortlist that included the chairperson's name was recommended to the communications minister.

Lewis adds that at the very least, Mohlaloga should have drawn the portfolio committee's attention to the allegations against him and to his impending trial.

When Mohlaloga initially joined ICASA as a councillor in July 2013, he had already been charged with defrauding the Land Bank of R6 million, although the case had yet to go through the court process.

In January, Mohlaloga, together with former Land Bank CEO Philemon Mohlahlane and other accomplices, was found guilty of fraud and money laundering by a specialised commercial crimes court.

Tainted position

Charley Lewis.
Charley Lewis.

The South African telecoms regulator defines its council as its highest decision-making body. It consists of eight members and the chairperson.

Those appointed to serve on the council are selected on the principles of transparency, openness and accountability, commitment to fairness and freedom of expression.

According to Lewis, the chairperson is the public face of ICASA, and needs to be able to provide leadership to the council, as it occupies an influential role with respect to the regulator's agenda and decisions.

He explains: "ICASA, as an independent regulatory acting in the broad public interest, is based on the collegial regulatory commission model, governed by a nine-person council charged with taking regulatory decisions.

"These decisions have critical outcomes for the ICT sector as a whole, for the millions of South Africans who are users of ICT infrastructure and consumers of ICT services and content, and for the financial well-being and operational effectiveness of the operators and service providers. It is for this reason that the council and its chair should be, and should be seen to be, above reproach."

Given that the councillors are hired based on quality, integrity and in the public interest, Lewis believes Mohlaloga should do the honourable thing, and resign.

Even were his conviction to be overturned on appeal, the taint of the allegation surely means public office in a position of trust and accountability is out of the question, he states.

Questionable appointment

Rubben Mohlaloga.
Rubben Mohlaloga.

Although Mohlaloga was facing fraud allegations, he served as both councillor and acting chairperson at the telecoms regulator.

After his stint as councillor, he was appointed as acting chairperson on 22 June 2016, pending the appointment of a permanent chairperson. Between July 2015 and November 2017, the position of chairperson of the ICASA council was rotated.

Last September, the regulator announced Mohlaloga's departure and said he would be replaced by Paris Mashile. On 1 December 2017, Mohlaloga made a comeback and was appointed as council chairperson.

While he waits to hear the sentence for his fraud conviction, Mohlaloga's status as chairperson of the ICASA council remains unchanged until such time the National Assembly adopts a resolution calling for his removal, ICASA previously said.

Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority said sentence will be passed on Mohlaloga on 15 May.

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