MPs blast Ndabeni-Abrahams on ICASA council conduct

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, communications and digital technologies minister.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, communications and digital technologies minister.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications has stood firm in its decision to recommend six candidates be appointed to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) council in the order in which they were prioritised.

This comes after minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams wrote to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise, requesting the appointment of ICASA councillors be staggered.

Ndabeni-Abrahams submitted three letters to the office of the speaker, raising a number of concerns about the recommended candidates, including, but not limited to, the skills set of some of them, as well as a request to accept only four of the 10 shortlisted names.

In a subsequent letter, the minister added two names to the initial four potential appointees, saying this is in case the committee decides to proceed with six candidates.

The speaker referred the minister’s concerns for consideration to the committee, which it discussed in its portfolio meeting this week.

With guidance from Parliament’s legal and constitutional development office, the committee decided “not to accede to a request by the minister of communications and digital technologies to fill only four of the six vacancies on ICASA’s council, nor altering the skills set as recommended by the National Assembly in line with Section 5(3B) (II), as per the committee’s recommendation in the order of priority.

“The committee is of the firm view that the convergence of the regulator needs to take into account the skills as outlined in the ICASA Act. In its view, a request by the minister fails to respond to this section of the Act.”

The committee firmly held that all six vacancies should be filled, taking into consideration all the required skill sets.

In May, Parliament’s communications committee recommended 10 names for consideration to fill the vacancies on the regulator’s highest decision-making body.

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

The Parliament committee referred the names in order of priority, a move that reportedly did not sit well with Ndabeni-Abrahams.

This week, the minister recommended her six preferred names, one of which was not on the committee’s top six.

A few choice words

Some of the MPs were dissatisfied with the minister’s conduct regarding their recommendations and proposed writing a “strongly-worded” letter to the minister, to express their dissent.

Phumzile Van Damme, DA MP and shadow minister of communications and digital technologies, stressed that Ndabeni-Abrahams’s role is one of providing input in regards to the process, and ultimately the responsibility to appoint the councillors lies with Parliament.

“I have never heard of what we've had to experience here. First of all, a minister questions the authority of the National Assembly, not just of this committee, but of the National Assembly, because this report was adopted by the National Assembly.”

“Surely, she would have done due diligence and check whether the law allows her to do what she was proposing she does; she did not,” Van Damme added. “It is a grave embarrassment that this is the person who is the minister responsible for such an important sector, and she doesn't know the basic law that applies to her departments.”

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Fana Mokoena described the minister’s actions as extremely disappointing.

“The minister is setting a precedent, which must not be entertained by Parliament ever again. It is not possible for Parliament to take a decision and that decision to be ratified by Parliament and sent to the executive, and then the executive brings it back.

“On what Constitutional platform is she giving herself the latitude to do what she's doing? This is Parliament, this is government, there are rules and there's a Constitution, and she must abide by those.

“A letter must be written to her to explain what her duties are, but also a letter must be written to the president to explain to him what his executive is doing.”

Looking ahead

Van Damme suggested the committee sticks to its original list, saying she simply does not have confidence in the minister.

“In terms of the committee, we had an extensive debate regarding the list of candidates, and there was an order of preference…I don't think we should change our position.

“We have a list, and the top six on the list. I would suggest…those top six names be taken to the National Assembly and we can proceed in that manner. A very strongly-worded letter must be sent to the minister.”

Mokoena added: “The decision has been made by Parliament, the names have been given to her, and she must do what she is supposed to do – choose the names. The names must then be given back to Parliament, Parliament ratifies and appointments are made.”

Boyce Maneli, chairperson of the portfolio committee, stressed that the six names were recommended in the order of priority, and compliance in the legislation was looked at in terms of the set of skills.

Therefore, not acceding to the other name outside of the prioritised candidates doesn’t mean the committee does not take into account the role the minister needed to play but that it then changes the skills set, Maneli explained.

“In the skills that have been listed in the legislation, amongst others, is an issue that relates to postal services background…it’s about ensuring the broader mix of the skills is there.

“The minister would have also appreciated that Parliament has not faltered in the processes, neither has it broken any legislation as the legislation stands today. However, she was trying to advise Parliament differently and Parliament is saying we are not acceding and ask her to review in line with what is being proposed because it is informed by the skills set.”

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