A tale of two departments
The two communications ministries have made little progress in ICT advancement in SA.
The Democratic Alliance's (DA) streamlined cabinet proposal has brought into question the effectiveness of SA's two separate communications ministries. DA leader Mmusi Maimane has proposed 15 new ministries, which is a drastic cut from the 35 ministries currently in government.
As part of the new ministries, the DA says it will introduce the Department of Economic Infrastructure, which will be dedicated to improving access to ICT. This department will see the coming together of departments such as Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services and Transport.
"Both the departments of Communications and Telecommunications and Postal Services would be collapsed, reimagined and renamed the Department of Information and Communications
Technology," said Maimane. "This department would regulate and develop the entire infrastructure that information and communications technology runs on in the country."
When President Jacob Zuma announced in 2014 that the communications department would be split into two ministries, the Department of Communications (DOC) and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), the ICT industry was left unsure about what to expect.
Under the leadership of minister Faith Muthambi, the new DOC would focus on communications policy and strategy, information dissemination and publicity, as well as the branding of the country abroad.
Meanwhile, the new DTPS ministry, led by former spy boss minister Siyabonga Cwele, would oversee the country's ICT and postal service sector with the aim of deriving more value from the telecoms sector, which in 2012 was estimated to be worth R180 billion.
Less than two years later, the DOC and DTPS have been dogged by reports of project delays, missed targets, staff exodus, power struggles and confusion in mandates, which has resulted in questions about the effectiveness of two ministries.
"Both departments missed most of their targets during their first financial years," says DA's shadow minister for Telecoms and Postal Services, Marian Shinn.
Koffi Kouakou, senior lecturer in government communications and scenario planning at the Wits School of Governance, says splitting the communications department hasn't worked as well as the president would have liked.
Kouakou believes Zuma saw a packed DOC and thought that by dividing tasks, operation outcomes would be achieved faster. However, "The decision to split the communications department was the wrong strategic move," he says.
"Setting up a new ministry costs time and money; it can take up to 18 months to set up a new ministry and there was no budget for the DTPS," says Kouakou.
The DTPS must be led by a minister who fully appreciates the importance of ICT to the economic growth and social development of the country.Marian Shinn, DA
Time and money are needed resources when there are two ministries to support instead of one, says Shinn. She adds that there has been no advantage in the president's decision to form two ministries, except paralysis where it counts.
Says Shinn: "The decision to split the old DOC was made 48 hours before it was announced and there was no informed discussion on its impact, leaving the distinct impression that it was done to create a ministry for Faith Muthambi to promote the governing party's messaging, control the broadcasting sector and production of set-top boxes as part of the migration to digital broadcasting."
The DOC oversees the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Brand SA, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and the Film and Publication Board.
Says Shinn: "ICASA, as the regulator, is at risk of having every decision challenged as the council is dysfunctional...ICAS is also in the wrong ministry - broadcasting is only one of its areas of activity; most of its critical tasks lie in the granting of network licences and spectrum. These fall under the DTPS."
DA MP Gavin Davis agrees, saying that since the launch of the two departments, there has been widespread confusion over the respective roles of the DTPS and the DOC.
"Turf wars over various issues (such as who controls digital terrestrial television) have led to delays and ineffi ciencies," he notes.
"Telecommunications and traditional modes of broadcasting are converging, and yet we have a department that has diverged. How else can you explain why both the telecoms minister and the communications minister have launched their own entirely distinct reviews of broadcasting?"
The biggest loser
Pundits say internal operational struggles and policy delays in the departments are the least of the problems - it's the country's ICT sector that has become the biggest loser.
The country's move towards convergence is being hampered by the fragmentation in the departments, which is hurting the ICT sector, says Kouakou. "Ministerial changes result in lack of speed within the ICT sector."
Naila Govan-Vassen, ICT industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says there hasn't been much progress in SA's ICT market. She says the separation of the communications department is not the only reason for this, but it has contributed to the lack of coordination and interoperability between government, state-owned enterprises, private entities and the regulators themselves.
"Government's willingness to develop the ICT sector is clear, but it's been found wanting in terms of its ability to implement these changes as evidenced by its failure to meet the deadline for digital migration and the ongoing uncertainty regarding the timelines, funding and stakeholder roles with respect to the National Broadband Plan," she says.
Both the DTPS and DOC deny reports of dysfunction and claim to be making strides in their respective departments.
According to the DTPS, it has visited the district municipalities identified by the president as sites to pilot the rollout of broadband infrastructure in rural towns and villages. The department also says it is working with provinces to ensure that their broadband infrastructure plans are aligned to South Africa Connect.
"As government, we are determined to connect all citizens to the internet, including those who live in remote areas. The ICT policy review panel finalised its report and the department is working towards the ICT Policy White Paper, which seeks to modernise the country's policies. This process will, among others, result in the finalisation of the spectrum policy this financial year," states the DTPS.
Meanwhile, the DOC notes that its entities have also shown great improvement and can now meet their targets.
This is a new department; it has done reasonably well considering when it was formed, says the department. "Under the stewardship of minister Faith Muthambi, the department managed to get DTT policy presented before the cabinet, and the policy was gazetted on 18 March 2015."
According to Davis, the only change that needs to happen is to go back to one converged communications department.
Shinn adds: "The DOC must be closed down. The DTPS must be led by a minister who fully appreciates the importance of ICT to the economic growth and social development of the country and has the political clout within his/her party to drive this agenda.
"Government is a major inhibitor of ICT development and growth in the country. It needs to adopt the role of facilitator to give the sector the support it needs to soar."
Similarly, Kouakou believes the DOC and DTPS must to go back to one department. "The communications department was not as effective as it should've been, but now it's just worse."
DOC score card
In August 2015, the DOC presented the performance information for its entities for the 2014/15 financial year.
* SABC: Although the state broadcaster was able to show a healthy financial position, revenue and income earned for the quarter under review, it fell short of budget by nine percent to R207.3 million.
* MDDA: The MDDA had a leadership vacuum at board and management levels, which resulted in the appointment of an acting CEO by the DOC.
* ICASA: The regulator could not achieve most of its targets. Key deliverables not achieved include the licensing of additional free-to-air television broadcasting services, issuing regulations in the provision of subscription broadcasting television services, position paper on retail tariff transparency, compilation of a draft research report covering factors that affect the cost of DTT in South Africa and the gazetting of B-BBEE regulations in the government gazette.
* BrandSA: Brand South Africa was unable to achieve almost all key deliverables that were planned for the three quarters of the 2014/15 financial year. The DOC has postponed the targets to the fourth quarter of this financial year.
* PFB: The film and publications board managed to achieve the majority of the key deliverables that were planned.
This article was first published in the April 2016 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.