Telecoms Agency for Country's Poor Samples Highlife in South Africa

Telecoms

A cash-strapped agency designed to take telecommunications into poor and rural areas has been criticised for spending R281,000 on an advertorial in a British Airways in-flight magazine.

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA often complains that the government gives it too little money to take voice and data services to everyone. Yet it spent R281,000 on an article and advert in the December/January edition of the airline’s Highlife magazine. The initiative was proposed to the executive committee by Ricky Naidoo, its Head of Corporate Service, and the bill was authorised by CEO James Theledi.

"The agency complains about a lack of funding but it's gone out of its way to advertise with an international organisation like British Airways, so which audience is it addressing?" said a source close to the agency. "The audience it is supposed to address are the underserved people of SA, and which of them are on a British Airways flight?"

The source also complained that a short interview with Theledi did not cover universal service, but focused on the need to cut the cost and increase the speed of broadband Internet access used by wealthier citizens.

The agency last week said it was disappointed by the criticism, as the source had not lodged any concerns with the internal auditor, the CEO's office or the audit committee.

The decision to advertise in Highlife was based on its wish to tell an international audience and industry stakeholders about its efforts to provide services to all South Africans, including those in poor and rural areas. That would help it forge partnerships with equipment suppliers and other technology companies that could help it meet that goal. As part of the advert, Theledi also had an opportunity to talk about technologies and how the agency would contribute to the success of the 2010 World Cup.

Business Day