Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has criticised national treasury’s discussion document on growing South Africa’s economy, suggesting the document’s chapter on telecommunications is outdated.
Speaking at a Telkom event in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, Ndabeni-Abrahams said in response to a question from MC Aki Anastasiou: “It’s important to help the people that created or developed the document from treasury to understand that the world is changing, that we are no longer focusing on what they are focusing on, and this is the new direction from the people who are better advised and literate on the matter.”
The minister’s criticism of the document comes after Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko on Sunday launched an extraordinary attack on treasury’s discussion paper, accusing the department of tossing a “grenade” into the telecoms sector.
In a column in the Sunday Times, Maseko described the treasury document, which was published last week, as an “incoherent, ill-thought-out and ultimately chaotic intervention in the area of telecoms and ICT”.
Ndabeni-Abrahams was more muted in her criticism. She said that national treasury “has its own mandate as defined in the law” but that “we are one government”.
“We have approved a policy direction as cabinet, which is the highest decision-making body in government. But, of course, treasury has a responsibility to trigger a discussion on how to grow the economy, which is what I believe they were doing when they introduced (the paper),” she said.
“We in the space, who understand better, have to input on that (treasury) document and show them that gone are the days of talking about the telecoms that the document dwells on. We are talking about cloud and the Internet… I would invite us all to make inputs on that document and help treasury understand where our space is going to.”
Maseko said on Sunday that the treasury document contradicts existing ICT policy and the regulatory framework, the outcome of the priority markets investigation by communications regulator Icasa and the preliminary findings of the Competition Commission’s inquiry into the data services market.
His biggest concern appears to be that the treasury document contradicts policy formulation in ICT by other government departments, which, he warned, will result in policy uncertainty and damage investment.
“When one department advocates for a policy which has already been withdrawn — sometimes even by another department entirely — it makes it difficult for business leaders to plan and prepare accordingly,” he said.
“Effective inter- and intra-government co-ordination is crucial for policy certainty. Policy certainty is crucial for investment.”
On telecommunications specifically, the treasury document says:
Government should release spectrum through an auction with a small set-aside for a government-controlled network, and competition should be allowed in Telkom’s infrastructure that connects the local exchange to residential homes and businesses.
“Immediate enforcement will allow multiple providers access, enhancing competition and reducing unnecessary infrastructure duplication,” the document says.
Rapid deployment guidelines that accelerate the installation of telecoms infrastructure should be finalised, and open-access conditions should be imposed to minimise unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.
Icasa’s proposed economic regulation component should be independent of line departments and be directly funded from industry levies, as per international best practice.
The state should leverage private-sector expertise in broadband roll-out, rather than relying exclusively on state-owned companies. — © 2019 NewsCentral Media
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