Recent media reports about ICASA and the Department of Communications (DoC) indicate that these two institutions are quite happy with their own performance, and rate themselves very highly. Users and journalists disagree.
In a recent Mail & Guardian survey the Director General of Communications, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, was given an E, meaning: “Do yourself and the country a favour – resign”. Shope-Mafole’s response to her E was that she not only disputes this grade but thinks that the DoC is in fact ‘performing well’, and gives herself a C-grade.
A similar scenario is playing itself out with ICASA . ICASA has come under fire recently with massive staff losses, a criminal investigation against its CEO, its chairman accused of sleeping on the job and many people feeling that ICASA suffers from a general lack of performance.
The Regulator however seems oblivious to the dent these accusations have caused their reputation and has chosen to give itself an A for its excellent performance.
It is quite astounding that both ICASA and the DoC are brazen enough to congratulate themselves on a job well done when local telecoms prices remain extremely high and our broadband penetration is more than 15 times lower than the OECD average.
The recently released ICASA ADSL Regulations provide a good example of the problems that exist within the Regulator. The regulations were heavily criticized for their lack of clarity and foreseeable problem with implementation.
If one considers that the ADSL regulation process took in excess of two years it is all the more shocking that such a poor set of regulations was Gazetted.
Attempts to contact ICASA from both industry and consumers to gain clarity on the regulations were met with an endless round of excuses with the final nail in the coffin from the chairman himself – Paris Mashile.
Mashile stated that ICASA did not have enough evidence to ascertain that Telkom’s prices were in fact unreasonable, practically wiping out the two years of work on regulations aimed at reducing the price of ADSL.
While industry is grappling with what to do to fall in line with the regulations, ICASA, who should be leading the fray, is nowhere to be found.
This rather dismal performance from the Regulator begs for the definition of ‘excellent performance’ to be rehashed.
Department of Communications
The Department of Communications is however not setting the best example for their independent regulatory arm.
The DoC is not performing much better with the heavy burden of Telkom’s monopoly still weighing the sector down. The much touted arrival of the SNO, which was incidentally four years late, has not relieved too much of the strain yet.
Dawie Roodt, a renowned South African economist, recently estimated that Telkom’s extended monopoly due to the SNO’s delayed launch cost South Africa in excess of R 50-billion in the last five years.
The reason provided for this shocking delay, which has resulted in a huge waste of money, is that the DoC miscalculated how long it would take. In a recent interview in Black Business Quarterly the Minister of Communications, Dr. Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, is quoted as saying that they underestimated the process of introducing a second national operator.
While it is admirable that the DoC is coming clean on some of its mistakes, it does not seem to realize the biggest one, namely not opening up the market to true competition.
Their ‘managed telecoms liberalization’ has proved to be a dismal failure, but instead of cutting their losses and following the rest of the world, Government is clinging ever more ardently to the idea that they should control this industry.
Government, through the Department of Public Enterprises, is in fact getting even more involved in telecoms and is in the process of establishing their latest telecommunications infrastructure company – InfraCo.
Government and ICASA seem to have lost their way. They have forgotten that their role is to ensure affordable and universal telecommunications services to all South Africans. Should they not be rating themselves according to these criteria?
Apparently not. While local businesses and consumers suffer due to the high price of telecoms and poor availability of broadband services both ICASA and the DoC are quite content with their performance.
This may be an indication that these organizations are not entirely in touch with what consumers and businesses need, or maybe it is merely an indication of the standards they set themselves.