R501-million owed to ICASA

Shadow Minister of Communications for the Democratic Alliance (DA), Marian Shinn, wrote today (30 April 2013) that according to a reply to a DA parliamentary question, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is owed R501-million by companies and state departments.

This money arises from disputes over spectrum usage and other electronic communication issues, Shinn said.

She went on to explain that the R501-million is owed by 11 companies and 2 government departments, with a further R6-million owed by companies or entities that are “untraceable”.

“I will submit follow-up parliamentary questions to the Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, to ascertain what steps she will be taking to recover this money from ICASA’s debtors,” Shinn said.

According to the reply, Shinn reported, almost half of the R500-million is owed by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Services (SAPS) who both claim insufficient funds to meet their combined R201,103,691 bill.

SANDF owes R189,216,989 and SAPS R20,886,702, Shinn said.

Three companies are involved in spectrum-related disputes, Shinn said: the Basson Group (R699,986); Vodacom (R65,452,445); and Wireless Business Solutions [iBurst] (R55,374,081).

A total of R337,629,491 is owned in spectrum disputes and R163,805,653 is owed in electronic communication related disputes, Shinn said.

Shinn went on to write that five companies are involved in other electronic communication related disputes:

  • Neotel owes R34,909,857 and Cell C owes R107,278,168 in disputes over ICASA’s interpretation of the regulations and a legal opinion is awaited;
  • Orbicom owes R4,692,055 in a dispute over whether regulations were amended to cater for Orbicom;
  • Internet Solutions owes R2,460,259 and MTN owes R14,465,313 in interest and penalties due to the Universal Service Access Fund for which a legal opinion is awaited.

According to Shinn, ICASA has come under pressure from the Auditor-General and parliament’s portfolio committee on communications for its inadequate monitoring and accounting systems that have resulted in woefully inadequate collection of fees due for the application of and use of radio spectrum.

“Late last year ICASA embarked on a vigorous audit of licensees and their use of spectrum,” Shinn said.

This, Shinn explained, recently led to WBS having its equipment sealed, leading to extensive disruption of its communications services to its clients. This matter is currently the subject of legal actions.

“The DA welcomes the moves by ICASA to get its house in order so the sector can be effectively and efficiently monitored and managed,” Shinn said. “New computer systems on order must be installed and become operational as soon as possible.”

Shinn concluded that for ICASA to be financially sound and to operate as an independent entity it is critical that it “operate with the necessary vigour and political will to ensure that all spectrum users pay their dues and no longer exploit the inefficiencies of the regulator for their financial advantage.”

According to Shinn, any further faltering of the regulator is likely to lead to it losing its Chapter Nine status and becoming a government-owned entity.

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R501-million owed to ICASA