Minister’s fight with Parliament is bad news for mobile networks

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is engaged in a protracted dispute with Parliament over her rejection of candidates provided to her for ICASA council positions.

At the end of June 2020, Ndabeni-Abrahams questioned the suitability of the 10 candidates recommended for the open positions, questioning their suitability and rejecting several due to a lack of experience.

ICASA plays a vital role in the South African economy – and ICT sector in particular – as it is responsible for managing the allocation of spectrum to mobile network operators.

The organisation is also responsible for the roll-out of the country’s planned wireless open-access network (WOAN), as well as an upcoming probe into local mobile data prices.

According to a report by the City Press, however, the timely release of additional spectrum, as well as the implementation of the WOAN and data pricing probe, are threatened by Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams’s quarrel with Parliament’s portfolio committee.

The report stated that the Minister chose to exclude Kgosi Matthews from the shortlist of councillors, despite him among the committee’s favourite candidates.

Spokesperson for the portfolio committee Justice Molafo told the publication that the speaker of the National Assembly would arrive at a resolution of the matter.

According to the report, this impasse over councillor appointments “will most likely” delay the auctioning of spectrum scheduled for December 2020.

This is a major problem for mobile networks, who have been relying on temporary spectrum issued by ICASA to continue providing high-quality services, as well as to launch additional 5G services.

Mobile network operators, including Vodacom and MTN, have been requesting new spectrum from the government and ICASA for years, as it will allow them to offer better mobile data coverage at higher speeds and lower prices.

Vodacom, for example, said it used temporary spectrum from ICASA to fast-track the launch of its 5G network in May.

Breaking lockdown rules

Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams was previously placed on special leave for two months after she violated lockdown regulations.

The minister was chastised by the President for visiting a friend for lunch during strict lockdown regulations in South Africa.

While she was on special leave, Minister in The Presidency Jackson Mthembu acted in her position.

Ndabeni-Abrahams was made to apologise to the country for her actions.

“I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions. I hope the President and South Africans will find it in their hearts to forgive me,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

Now read: The problem with how South Africa makes lockdown laws

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Minister’s fight with Parliament is bad news for mobile networks