Minister of Communications
Grade: E (2005 D)
South Africans are still paying through the nose for telecoms and broadband services, while Matsepe-Casaburri sticks to her guns, touting managed liberalisation as the answer to our woes. While most stakeholders and commentators see increased competition as the answer to exorbitant telecoms costs, Matsepe*Casaburri has stuck to the government line that competition needs to be introduced gradually and tied in with delivery to under-serviced areas.
Little surprise then that the minister was running neck and neck with Telkom for the hotly contested "33.6 Kbps Modem Award" presented by consumer activists MyADSL to the organisation or individual who posed the biggest obstacle to development in the broadband arena over the last year.
For years, there have been calls for decisive action such as the unbundling of Telkom's local loop and the regulation of bottlenecks, including the interconnection regime and Telkom's monopoly of landing rights for the SAT-3 undersea submarine cable. Yet the minister has targeted the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and its independence. After Mbeki dealt her meddling a blow by rejecting the Icasa Amendment Bill, which placed the responsibility for appointing Icasa councillors in her hands, the ANC-dominated parliamentary portfolio committee short-listed two current and one former department of communications officials as candidates.
Meanwhile, Icasa is haemorrhaging experienced staff, undermining its ability to regulate the sector and stimulate competition, leaving existing operators to make hay while the sun shines.
We may have new legislation in the form of the Electronic Communications Act and a second national operator in the form of Neotel, but there are still far too many impediments to competition and price reduction. The policy vacuum in the department is the obstacle. If any sector needs a 21st-century minister, communications does.