Communication on line

2012-01-28 14:50

There’s a new boss in charge at the communications department and she has already set impressive targets to clean up her department’s image.

Dina Pule, the new minister of communications, has been busy around the clock since she took office three months ago.

Her hands-on leadership style has seen Pule stepping in to wipe out leadership challenges that were beginning to affect the image of some of her department’s parastatals.

She has also set herself tight deadlines.

By March, Pule has to have:
» Appointed a new board for the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa);
» Finalised the digital terrestrial television regulations;
» Hosted a national policy colloquium to review the information and communication technologies (ICT) policy environment since 1994;
» Developed the National Cybersecurity Policy Framework and presented it to cabinet; and
» Appointed a Postbank board.

This week she ordered the South African Post Office board to speedily conclude the disciplinary hearing of its chief executive, Motshoanetse Lefoka.

Lefoka is facing a disciplinary hearing relating to a R425?million lease contract – awarded to commercial property developing firm M&T without proper tender regulations being followed – first revealed in City Press.

Pule’s intervention on Tuesday resulted in Lefoka following in the footsteps of the parastatal’s former chief operating officer John Wentzel, who also left in October after he was accused of the same thing.

Pule said she did not want Lefoka’s disciplinary hearing to drag on any longer because the parastatal had to continue focusing on delivering its mandate.

Pule also said she had dissolved the board of the Universal Service and Access Agency because it was unable to play its oversight role, which had resulted in the agency’s four top managers being suspended.

They include chief executive Phineas Moleele, chief financial officer Andrew Hlubi, business development officer Molefi Mollo, and supply-chain manager Archie Mbatha.

The suspensions followed allegations of misappropriating R29?million and the fate of the four hangs on a forensic investigation that is being conducted.

Pule has also turned her attention to the Independent Communication Authority of SA (Icasa).

In July 2010, Icasa lowered the interconnection fees – the rates cellphone companies charge each other to handle incoming calls – to 65c per call per minute from July 2010.

Cellphone users were promised that in July last year the inter-connection fee would be further reduced to 50c, but this has yet to take effect. It was also proposed that the fee would be cut to 40c this July.

“Over the past weekend we did engage Icasa – an entity that is supposed to help us bring the cost of communication down – and told the authority’s officials that South Africans are going to be complaining soon,” said Pule.

“People need to see the cost of communication coming down. We requested Icasa to assist us with regulation to ensure that cellphone tariffs are brought down.”

Communications chief financial officer Sam Vilakazi said Icasa would initiate a survey to determine the impact of the reductions that took place in 2010.

“The authority will use the findings of the study to determine what steps to take. The main issue is to see the man on the street really benefiting from this reduction,” he said.

“It becomes a pointless exercise if the reductions are kept at the wholesale level and do not trickle down to consumers.”

Pule said the department has started a process to restructure Icasa as the authority itself faces challenges.

“The first draft of the restructuring plan has been submitted to my office. It looks at whether the current Icasa system is structured in a manner that helps the organisation carry out its mandate,” she said.
“We want to make sure that each councillor signs a perfor-mance agreement so that they can perform,” she said.

Pule said the country will prioritise the roll-out of broadband. “If the broadband roll- out is increased by just 10%, the GDP will grow by 1.3%. If broadband is rolled out success-fully, we would assist in creating 160 000 jobs by 2020,” she said.

She aims to achieve 100% broadband penetration by 2020.

Her department is busy determining the cost implications of the broadband roll-out.

“Others have estimated that it will cost us R45 billion, others are estimating R75 billion. We are currently doing an impact assessment to check first where we have infrastructure and where there are gaps of broadband,” Pule said.

“We want to involve the industry in the roll-out of broadband because the state can’t afford to roll it out solely on its own. We need to partner with private entities and will soon finalise a public-private partnership policy.”

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