The DA’s Gavin Davis delivered his response to the communications minister Faith Muthambi’s budget vote speech in Parliament on Wednesday. Muthambi’s ‘New department, new possibilities’ speech did not sit well with Davis who said that in his drive to create a “propaganda machine”, President Jacob Zuma instead “created a mess” of government communications. Glenda Nevill reports.
The great irony, said Davis, was that Zuma “never got the propaganda machine he wanted. Because no ministry this dysfunctional could ever be referred to as a ‘machine’”.
Muthambi left herself wide open for attack by declaring South Africa’s digital terrestrial television migration her department’s “flagship programme”. In her speech, she said that by “Utilising our collective efforts and wisdom, we will do all we can to ensure that the migration process commence during the second quarter of this financial year”.
Davis is skeptical, saying South Africa is facing “humiliation on a global scale” on 17 June. “Because, on that day, we will miss the International Telecommunications Union deadline to switch over from analogue to digital television. If Minister Muthambi had not spent the last year meddling with the Digital Migration Policy, and waging an obsessive turf war to control the process, it is unlikely that we would be in the embarrassing position we now find ourselves in,” he said.
Muthambi admitted in her speech South Africa’s failure to move to DTT, where other less-developed African countries have managed, saying her department was doing all it can “to ensure that the migration process commence during the second quarter of this financial year”. She said she was ready to consult with Cabinet about a date for the digital switch-on.
She said the communications department had budgeted R22 million for a public awareness campaign, that key messages had been developed, and that the department would be working with local traditional leaders to implement the campaign. She was also working on bilateral agreements with South Africa’s neighbouring countries Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland in order to “minimise cross border radio frequency spectrum interference”. South Africans could see a major deterioration in signal quality due to not having implemented DTT by June.
Muthambi said she would finalise the review of the broadcasting policy this financial year. Davis used this as another example of unnecessary and costly duplication as a result of Zuma’s decision to split the communications department from posts and telecommunications, one of the key reasons, he says, for the failure of the department to deliver on its mandate. He said it made no sense, in the age of convergence where traditional broadcasting is rapidly merging with new digital telecommunication technology, to create separate Communications and Telecommunications Departments.
“As a result, we have an Independent Communications Authority that doesn’t know which Minister it should account to. We have the entities expected to roll out digital migration accounting to Minister Muthambi, even though they legally fall under the department of telecommunications and posts. Worst of all, we have the unnecessary duplication, inherent contradictions and overall lack of policy coherence that has resulted from splitting the departments,” he said.
Davis gave an example. “On the 14 November 2014, the telecommunications minister gazetted the National Integrated ICT Policy Discussion Paper for public comment. An entire chapter of it is devoted to broadcasting, including regulation, language diversity, the funding and mandate of the SABC, and media diversity and development.
“Yet two days before, no doubt in anticipation of the release of the ICT Discussion Paper, Minister Muthambi announced that she would be doing her own Broadcasting Policy Review — on precisely the same topics covered in the ICT Discussion Paper. What a waste of time, energy and resources,” Davis said.
Davis reserved his most acerbic response to the minister’s speech to the ongoing dramas at the SABC.
Muthambi, in her speech, said South Africa should “celebrate the fact that the South African Broadcasting Corporation is in a sound financial state and has a cash and cash equivalent balance of R1.02 billion (not audited) at the end of the 2014/15 financial year. We thank the Board and Management of the Corporation for turning the tide and we hope that it will grow from strength to strength”.
“I hold in my hand internal SABC financial documents recently brought to light by the Sunday Times newspaper. They show that the SABC faces a projected loss of R501-million for the financial year just ended on March 31. This loss is projected to double to R 1 billion in the next financial year,” said Davis. “So Minister, the SABC is not on ‘a sound financial footing’, as you said in Parliament a few weeks ago. On the contrary, the SABC is facing financial ruin.”
And, he added, the minister should be regretting her budget speech last year in which she said stabilising the SABC was at the top of her agenda.
“Because, since then, no less than three SABC board members have resigned, while three others have been forcibly and illegally removed. As a result, the SABC board does not have a chairperson, or a quorum to legally constitute meetings,” said Davis. “Last year, the minister also promised that a new chief executive officer would be in place by the end of September. Nine months have passed and the post is still vacant.”
Davis called on the Speaker’s Office to release the legal opinion on the removal of board members Hope Zinde, Rachel Kalidass and Ronnie Lubisi. “Once we have this legal opinion, the Portfolio Committee can deal with this matter as we are mandated to do in terms of the Broadcasting Act,” he said. “As a Committee, we need to work together to find the most qualified and independently minded candidates to take up positions on the Board. And then they need to be left alone to do their jobs in the interests of the public we serve.”
In conclusion, he said he would offer Zuma a reprieve. “If he quietly scraps the new Communications ministry and goes back to the old converged Department, we will never mention this failed experiment again.”
Read Muthambi’s speech here.
Read Davis’ speech here: Davis Budget Vote 20 May 2015 – final
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