Massive task ahead for new Icasa chief

Pakamile Pongwana, the new CEO of telecommunications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), has his work cut out for him as he sets about fixing the organisation’s bruised image.

Icasa has often been accused of lacking muscle?X?licensees don’t pay and it is wracked by internal politics.

Various media reports said Icasa’s executive members appeared before Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications last week and were told to recover the estimated R370?million owed to it.

Some of its biggest debtors include the SA National Defence Force, which owes about R139?million, and Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), which owes more than R60?million.

WBS, the parent company of internet service provider iBurst, was taken to court by Icasa to try to recover the outstanding amount. Vodacom, which owed about R77?million, has since settled its matter with the regulator.

The fight between Vodacom and Icasa began in August 2010.

Icasa revised its spectrum licence fees to level the field between state-owned companies and private companies, which were paying substantially more for spectrum.

But it backtracked at the last minute on enforcing the new fees?X?under which Vodacom saved about R77?million that year X because it did not have the proper equipment to calculate the money owed.

Icasa applied to the high court to set aside the decision regarding the April 1 2011 implementation date. Vodacom opposed the application.

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman said: “The matter has been closed by mutual agreement between the parties.

“The terms of this agreement are confidential.”

Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka remained tight-lipped about the terms of the settlement.

Marian Shinn, shadow minister of communications for the DA, said a settlement was the best option at this stage.

“While Icasa has not been blameless in the licence fee fiasco in which it has found itself, there are some licensees who have exploited the muddle to their own financial advantage,” she said.

“Earlier this year, Icasa embarked on some harsh action against licensees. This was a new energy which indicated to the market that it was not going to let the fee issue drag on forever.

“I believe this tough action has sent a clear message that Icasa is serious about collecting its dues,” said Shinn.

Pongwana, who was previously a Vodacom executive in charge of regulatory affairs, has first-hand knowledge and experience in the regulatory environment. Shinn hopes he will bring valuable insights to the post as he uses his experience in government and the private sector.

Shinn said the new CEO’s immediate task should be to recruit appropriately skilled and experienced staff to fill the vital gaps in the administration and technical departments.

He should also fast-track the implementation of computer systems to efficiently monitor and manage the allocation and administration of licences, fees and spectrum usage.

“Poor administration systems have led to a serious breakdown in the relationships between Icasa and its customers,” said Shinn.

She said she hoped the new CEO would also focus on ensuring the independence of the regulator from the undue interference of government and various ministers.

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