South Africa: ICASA jeopardises DOC budget

Telecoms

Parliament refused to hear the Independent Communications Authority of SA's (ICASA's) strategy and budget presentation last week. This could precipitate what could turn into a financial crisis for the Department of Communications (DOC) and its portfolio of organisations. If Parliament doesn't sign off ICASA's budget and plans, it cannot sign off the department's either.

This means thousands of employees at the DOC and its portfolio organisations – such as Sentech, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the South African Post Office – will not be paid when the new financial year starts on 1 April.

In a late afternoon session, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications chairman Ismail Vadi cut short ICASA chairman Paris Mashile's opening remarks. Vadi asked if the regulator's strategy and budget had been properly tabled before Parliament, and if communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda had signed it off.

Mashile's answer was “no” to both questions, although he added he was under the impression that this should not have been an issue and that the minister was going to sign it all off anyway. However, Vadi and the other members of Parliament refused to allow Mashile and his 26-member entourage to continue.

A letter from DOC director-general Mamodupi Mohlala to the committee was circulated among the committee and the audience, stating ICASA had not met the deadline to submit its documentation to Parliament by 3 March. Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe set this deadline in his capacity as leader of government business.

This letter was transmitted to the committee late on Monday, barely 24 hours before the presentation began. In it, Mohlala states: “We wish to put it on record that we are not in possession of a complete text encapsulating that strategic plan for ICASA for the 2010/13 period.”

Vadi and members of all the political parties represented on the committee agreed that if ICASA's strategy and budget had not followed the procedures laid down in the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act of 2009, then they could not properly assess it, nor approve it.

This law, signed into effect by president Jacob Zuma last year, gives Parliament's oversight committees the power to approve, amend, or even reject budgets and strategies of government departments and their entities outright.

“This is an umbilical chord relationship,” Vadi said. “If one entity does not have its budget approved by us [the committee], then the whole Department of Communications budget cannot be approved... therefore, your staff will not be paid in April.”

The DOC did not have its strategy and budget plan approved by the committee last week, as it had not supplied sufficient detail, or in a format that the politicians could use to assess its performance. It will reappear before the committee next week to re-present.

“Last week, I overheard the mutterings and the sniggers of the ICASA members who were sitting behind me when the DOC was told to go and rework its budget,” Johnny de Lange (ANC) said. “I am very disappointed by ICASA today, just after I thought things were getting better.”

Juli Kilian (Cope) wanted to know if the DOC and ICASA were fighting their turf wars in Parliament, and enquired if all other entities had submitted their documentation on time. Kilian later told ITWeb the DOC had not complied with Parliament's request that it resubmit its strategy and budget this week.

Vadi pointed out that Parliament only had next week left in the current term and that it was already booked. “However, we will make the time to slip an ICASA hearing in at short notice,” he added. Mashile said he was disappointed with the outcome, but noted the authority would meet the deadline set by the committee to have its documentation in by next Tuesday.

ITWeb