USAASA corruption investigation underway

The Ministry of Communications said in a press statement today (15 July 2013) that it has decided to ask independent investigators to look into the allegations of possible corruption and maladministration at the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA).

According to the Ministry, the independent investigators have been briefed and are expected to produce their report in four weeks (i.e. the week of 12 August 2013).

“We take allegations about possible abuse of funds allocated by Parliament very seriously and we have consulted with the board,” said deputy minister of communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. “We are working tirelessly to restore the public’s faith in government institutions that are established to serve the citizens.”

The Ministry said that it will not be commenting further on this matter until after the conclusion of the investigation.

Network operators in South Africa have explained that they each pay a certain amount into the USAASA coffers as “universal service obligation funds”.

At last year’s MyBroadband conference, former CEO of MTN South Africa (now chief strategy officer for MTN Group) Karel Pienaar, told attendees that the amount of money sitting untapped was in excess of R2.5-billion.

“I think it’s time that we release that money not to provide decoders, but certainly to provide the 2020 vision of all of us… to get broadband to all,” Pienaar said.

In a press statement on the USAASA website, dated June 19, the agency’s board of directors said it had resolved to act on allegations of corruption and maladministration contained in a United Democratic Movement open letter to President Jacob Zuma.

It decided to “instruct the independent audit and risk committee to institute an independent investigation into all allegations contained in the letter”.

The board also placed two individuals on suspension “as a precautionary measure”.

In the letter, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa asked Zuma’s office to intervene.

He claimed that the then Communications Minister Dina Pule and other senior department officials had approved a multi-million rand application by Cell C for the roll-out of broadband infrastructure in the eMalahleni local municipality.

Holomisa alleged the application was approved despite not being subjected to the normal adjudication process as required by Electronic Communications Act.

He said that had it not been for the refusal of USAASA executive Mmatlou Morudu to implement the project, the money would have been released.

Holomisa called for the suspension of the agency’s senior management and Pule, who was replaced last week by Yunus Carrim.

Additional reporting by SAPA

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USAASA corruption investigation underway