Parliament grills telecoms department on broadband

Cape Town – MPs expressed concerns over the department of telecommunications and postal services' broadband plans in Parliament on Tuesday.

The department, in presenting its broadband plans to the telecommunications and postal services committee, outlined its aim to model e-government services on “leading countries” that displayed integration on services.

Department representative Tinyeko Ngobeni further told the committee that the department was accelerating the implementation of the SA Connect policy which seeks to ensure universal broadband in SA.

However, members questioned the financial details of the broadband plans.

“You have an appropriated fund that you must account for. In our accounting forum you must tell us what is it that you have spent of that appropriated money and where,” said committee chair Mmamoloko Kubayi.

The Democratic Alliance's Marian Shinn also questioned funding for the project.

“Was any of the R200m that was budgeted to be spent on SA Connect last year, spent? And if so, what was it spent on? I’m concerned that there’s not enough funding for this simply because I think it’s unplanned at this stage,” said Shinn.


READ: Here's why SA data prices won't come down soon

Ngobeni said the department was intent on connecting local facilities, but was constrained by a lack of funding.

“We were looking at what is required to connect these facilities. A lot of money is required. Our plans could only be confined to the money that we’ve been allocated,” said Ngobeni.

In his Budget Speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated R1.6bn to the roll-out of broadband.

Shinn highlighted the cost of consultants which makes up nearly a third of the allocation for broadband rollout.

“Broadband has been allocated R1.5bn for three years, and I’m not quite sure what that’s meant to cover. But we know that R647m of that is being spent on consultants," Shinn said.

However, Ngobeni refuted this, saying that government systems forced the goods and services classification as consultants.

“The issue on consultants is a classification from Treasury. This money is not going to consultants, this money is used to pay for the actual services once the facility is connected.”

But numbers presented to the committee came in for criticism.


READ: Vumatel brings free fibre broadband to schools

Kubayi questioned inconsistencies in a slide indicating Dr Kenneth Kaunda district in North West had 340 and 341 internet facilities in successive slides.

Gert Sibande district in Mpumalanga was indicated as having 807 and 776.

“You have four quarters: Where is quarter five, six, seven? You have four quarters that you account for. Once you move to another quarter, it becomes quarter one of the next financial year,” said Kubayi of the presentation.

While she had praise for the overall presentation and acknowledged state-owned company involved, she also highlighted a lack of detail on private sector involvement.

“You’re talking about the private sector being part of your work. Who is the private sector is there? Everybody else is accounted for,” she said.

“We talked about connecting government offices within three years. What is that going to cost? What are the numbers you put before Treasury? And is there room in that for private sector involvement?” Shinn added.

“If you procure for connectivity in the first year, that connectivity has to be paid going forward so the following year you have to make provision for that,” said Ngobeni.

He said that rural rollouts in particular will incorporated both fixed line and mobile connectivity as terrain and budget dictated.

“We are looking at connecting schools which are very crucial. In each and every community there is at least one school so our approach is to ensure that each school is connected with high speed [broadband] there will be fibre to each rural area or each village.”

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