Padayachie talking tough

New Communications Minister Radhakrishna "Roy" Padayachie is talking tough, vowing to reconstruct his department, address problems at the SABC and make serious inroads in bridging the digital divide.

December 7, 2010
Padayachie talking tough

He has strategies in place, targets he wants to meet and deadlines by which he wants them met.

But are the minister’s plans likely to enhance the functioning of his department and to take the communications sector in the country forward?

One analyst believes that what the department needs is strong leadership and Padayachie might be just the person to provide that.

Counting in his favour is Padayachie’s vast knowledge of the telecommunications industry, having previously served as a deputy minister in the department, says Dobek Pater, a Telecommunications and Market Analyst at Africa Analysis.

But a lot of the minister’s progress will depend on how he chooses to implement government policies related to the telecommunication’s field.

Pater suggests that the minister needs to further explore how his department can use partnerships, especially with the private sector to achieve the department’s goals.

“Hopefully what we’ll see from Mr Padayachie is more structured private/public partnerships to achieve government goals,” he says.

The minister also recognises the importance of these partnerships, recently saying that his department would focus on forging partnerships with the private sector, academia, civil society groups and labour.

“These sectors provide enormous potential for the mobilisation of intellectual capital and investment partnerships. We will extend an open invitation to enter into a development partnership with the different sectors to reconstruct and develop the information communication and technologies (ICT) sector,” the minister says.

Another key area Padayachie needs to address is the ever increasing digital divide, Pater says.

“The digital divide runs not only along the lines of voice communications but also data. Access to data services equals information. There are educational and potential socio-economic benefits that arise from access to information,” he adds.

The challenge for government is to narrow the gap between those who have access and those who do not. For that they will need to consider the combination of the costs of making services available to begin with and the costs of actually providing these services to communities, Pater says.

Padayachie also acknowledges that building an efficient, competitive and responsive information communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure network is critical to propel the country into a knowledge-based economy.

Bearing this in mind, he has committed his department to developing an integrated national broadband plan in the next 12 months.

Interventions aimed at promoting appropriate cost structures in the ICT sector will be implemented and government will also implement a programme to ensure the liberalisation in the sector in order to promote competition.

“Improving and increasing access to government services offered online remains a strategic objective of government. To realise this objective, there is a need to develop and promote open, simple and secure online e-applications and content to bring new experiences to the citizenry in general,” the minister says.

The department also intends developing the country’s ICT infrastructure, skills and regulations, so that everyone will be able to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the emerging information society and knowledge based economy.

Padayachie says his department is committed to bridging the digital divide and will develop programmes to promote the uptake and usage of ICTs on a national scale.

The beleaguered SABC has not escaped the minister’s attention.

“Our first priority would be to stabilise the leadership within the SABC and to address its programme of work that will resolve its financial liquidity problems and guarantee that the corporation will deliver programme content in tune with the needs of the people,” he says.

Although uncertain of the impact the minister will have on the SABC, Pater says he certainly hopes Padayachie will make a difference.

“The SABC seems to be going from bad to worse in terms of being able to manage itself. Hopefully government will be able to address that,” Pater adds.

Closer to home, the minister wants to reconstruct and develop his department.

The department’s approximately 30 percent vacancy rate will be tackled, with senior management and a director general to be appointed in the next three months. All vacancies are expected to be appointed within six months. The aim is to stabilise the leadership of the department, Padayachie says.

He wants to see his department improve its performance through effective leadership, internal communication, planning, budgeting, and staff performance management.

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