Communications minister Faith Muthambi has said regulator Icasa will not be moved to the department of telecommunications and postal services as had been expected.
Icasa has become a “political football”, according to the Democratic Alliance. Just weeks after it seemed certain that the communications regulator would report into the department of telecommunications and postal services, communications minister Faith Muthambi has told parliament that it will, in fact, be staying in her portfolio.
Muthambi, responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn, told parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Friday that nothing had changed from the original announcement made by President Jacob Zuma in May when he split the department of communications in two. The move created a new communications department housing the SABC and government’s communications arm, GCIS, and the new telecoms and postal services department.
That Icasa will remain in the new department of communications is unlikely to be welcomed by many in the telecoms industry. Much of Icasa’s work involves big projects that affect the sector.
Muthambi’s spokesman, Phumla Williams, could not immediately be reached for comment. However, Shinn said the minister told parliament that government is “just putting Icasa where it belongs” and “where the constitution says it should be” — with the department of communications.
“Icasa should be where the broadband policy and the ICT review is going to be managed,” Shinn said.
“The ANC seems to think that communications is just about content,” she said. “Even if we separate it out — making communications about content, and telecoms about infrastructure, ICT policy and the regulation of the transmission — then Icasa should still fall under telecoms.”
Shinn said Zuma’s decision to split the ministries is creating “huge” legal problems, in part because Icasa is a “chapter nine” institution under South Africa’s constitution. In terms of constitution, the broadcasting regulator must be independent of the executive arm of government.
“If Icasa is going to manage broadcasting, what is going to happen to the rest of electronic communication that isn’t broadcasting as such?” said Shinn. “I have no doubt that Icasa is being used as a political football.”
She called on Zuma to say that Icasa is a chapter nine institution charged with regulating the electronic communications sector and that its independence of government is guaranteed.
“Icasa’s status as a chapter nine institution must not be compromised,” she said. “Icasa should be adequately resourced and managed so it can effectively regulate and monitor the entire ICT sector. It must be answerable to parliament through the department of telecoms and postal services.”
She added that Icasa is in “serious danger of being formally co-opted into government”.
“We need a thorough discussion on what the role of Icasa is now and this needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
Icasa spokesman Jubie Matlou declined to comment.