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ICASA council left with only three members

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The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has bid farewell to one of its councillors, leaving its highest decision-making body with only three members.

ICASA announced the end of term of councillor Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa on Friday, following her resignation tendered to communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, in April.

This comes amid reports that Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is to appoint new councillors to the ICASA council, has questioned the suitability of some of the shortlisted candidates.

The Sunday Times reported Ndabeni-Abrahams has written to speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise, saying she is only accepting four out of the 10 names shortlisted by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications.

The minister cites lack of skills set that would position the regulator to effectively execute its mandate among the areas of concern, reported the Sunday newspaper, adding that these are skills in digital economy/economics, cyber security and emerging technologies.

According to the minister’s correspondence, ICASA’s current skills set − including the proposed candidates − is in finance, legal, engineering and public relations.

Political scoring

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

The telecoms regulator is looking to fill six vacancies on its council.

To fill these vacancies, the communications portfolio committee recommended a list of candidates in order of priority, a move that reportedly did not sit well with Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The list of names includes former ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, Yolisa Kedama, Zolani Kgosietsile Matthews, Peter Zimri, advocate Luthando Mkutumela, Dr Charles Lewis, Amanda Cuba, Sandisiwe Ncemane,Dikeledi Mushi and Ashraf Patel.

The recommended names were given to the minister to select her suitable candidates, after which they would be referred to the National Assembly for approval.

It remains unclear who is Ndabeni-Abrahams’s pick to fill those empty seats on the council.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says ICASA is “woefully under-resourced, and treated as a political football to be kicked around at the whim of government”.

Thecla Mbongue, senior research analyst for Middle East and Africa at Omdia, says: “The council doesn’t seem to have a rule specifying a quorum in terms of number of councillors sitting in order to function. Therefore, we assume it will continue to sit and rule as usual.

“However, if the body was meant to function with six or eight members, the reduced manpower will surely reflect on the efficiency of the body in terms of rapidity but also in terms of quality of the ruling. It is unfortunate to have to rely on only three members, no matter how competent they are, when we are expecting to rely on the reflection and advice of six to eight members.”

More empty seats

With the departure of Gongxeka-Seopa, ICASA is now left with only three members on its council, one of whom also serves as acting chairperson.

Gongxeka-Seopa was halfway through her term, having joined ICASA on 1 February 2018, and her term was going to officially end in January 2022.

ICASA expressed gratitude for having a councillor of Gongxeka-Seopa’s calibre, noting she actively participated in its performance and decision-making processes for the past two years.

She chaired and co-chaired a number of critical regulatory projects across all the core regulatory functions; for example, policy, research and analysis, licensing, compliance and consumer affairs, as well as engineering and technology.

“As we bid her farewell, we particularly commend her for not only focusing on the ‘big impact projects’ that she led and co-led, but for also ensuring the authority does not leave behind the most marginalised in our society in the execution of its mandate and in advancing the digital society,” says ICASA acting chairperson, advocate Dimakatso Qocha.

ICASA highlights that Gongxeka-Seopa’s contribution to the authority’s consumer protection mandate, in so far as provision and advancement of services to persons with disabilities is concerned, remains invaluable.

“The council of ICASA, executive management and staff would like to thank councillor Gongxeka-Seopa for her contribution over the past two years and we wish her well in her future endeavours,” concludes Qocha.

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