The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP, during the Budget Vote on Communications.
I would like to begin my speech by again welcoming Minister Ayanda Dlodlo to the Communications Ministry.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: we want Minister Dlodlo to succeed in this portfolio.
And in particular, Chairperson, we want her to succeed in restoring good governance and public and industry confidence in her Department, something that was completely destroyed by her predecessor, Faith Muthambi.
It is a tragedy, that Muthambi has not been held accountable for a tenure that was nothing short of catastrophic, especially for the SABC.
I would like to remind this House that the 60-day deadline for the laying of criminal charges as set in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the SABC Inquiry expires on 5 June 2017. That is in 10 days.
It was a recommendation in this report, adopted by most parties in the National Assembly, including the ANC, for Parliament to lay criminal charges against persons who misled or provided false information during the inquiry.
Minister Muthambi was indeed one of those people who misled the inquiry and as such, must be held accountable in terms of the Powers and Privileges Act and the Executive Ethics Code.
Honourable Chairperson, over the next two years, while the ANC is still in power, Minister Dlodlo has the opportunity to be the antithesis of Muthambi, or risk her legacy being that of Minister Dololo.
Over the next two years, the DA would like to see her bring much-needed stability; legislative and policy certainty; root out corruption and the deliver quality communications, educational and entertainment services to South Africa’s people.
The DA will be there, of course, at every step, to hold the Minister accountable, to ensure that she does not fail the people of this country.
I would like to devote the rest of my speech to assist her in this task.
The DA is not a party that is only about pointing out problems, but also, providing solutions.
As a first step, I think it will be very important for the Minister to be open and honest about where the problems are, and what the solutions will be.
She has done so, thus far, but I will caution her not to fall into the trap of shrouding the Department of Communications and its entities in secrecy – quite ironic – as her predecessor did.
Keep South Africa informed at all times about the work of government, and do so without being the Minister of Propaganda.
Let the people be the ultimate judge.
The role of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) is not to disseminate propaganda, but to inform. It is also, not to send out media advisories on behalf of obscure pro-Zuma WhatsApp groups.
Honourable Chairperson, the Department of Communications is allocated a budget of R1.3 billion for the 2017/18 financial year.
By the admission of the Minister’s own officials, this amount is too little, and under severe economic pressure, the Department runs risk of running out of money before the year is done.
It was, therefore, quite alarming to hear that the Department intends to purchase new cars for the Minister and her Deputy.
I, again, urge the Minister to reject these purchases, and set the example of austerity for the rest of government.
Do not become yet another Minister Wabenzi.
Chairperson, the Minister’s biggest task is maintaining much-needed oversight over the Department’s entities, without unduly interfering.
It is imperative that the relationship between the Ministry and its entities is codified in a publicly available Shareholder Compact, so it can be subjected to constant scrutiny.
The biggest problems are obviously at the SABC.
We are pleased that the interim Board is steadfastly implementing the recommendations of the SABC Inquiry Report.
The DA commends the interim Board for the stellar work they have done so far.
It is our worry, however, that the interim Board appears to be moving rather slowly in instituting disciplinary proceedings against staff implicated in the causing the rot at the SABC, such as CFO, James Aguma and the former Company Secretary, Theresa Geldenhuys.
It is unfathomable why these two are not on suspension, and Ms Geldenhuys is said to be assisting in the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) forensic investigation. That is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.
Both should be suspended immediately and subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
Together with the SABC Board, we would like also to see the Minister set up a panel of experts to investigate innovative means to increase the SABC’s funding.
At R173 million, the funding provided by government to the SABC, is obviously quite insufficient. The solution to this, however, is not additional license fees for mobile devices.
The DA will stand firmly in opposition to any further taxation to the already overburdened taxpayer.
Chairperson, I have had complaints from musicians that “payola” is still very much in existence at SABC radio stations. Music played on the public broadcaster’s radio stations should be chosen on merit, not based on who has the biggest bribe.
I will be submitting a formal request to the Department of Communications for a full-scale inquiry into payola at the SABC for all staff implicated in this, to be brought to book.
Restoring staff morale at the SABC is of utmost importance.
It was heart-breaking to hear talented staffers at the SABC recounting gut-wrenching accounts of being hounded and terrorised by Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his enforces because they refused not dance to his beat.
It is a disgrace that to date, SAPS’s investigations of the attacks and threats against the SABC 8 has not been finalised.
I would like to strongly suggest that the Minister personally request an update from the Police Ministry about this investigation.
How is it that our journalists are terrorised in their homes, and one shot in the face, and not a single person has been arrested?
With regards to the other, equally important entities in this portfolio, at then Film and Publication Board (FPB), it is imperative that the issues relating to its top leadership are resolved and a new CEO, COO and CFO appointed urgently.
It must never happen again, that the entities in this Portfolio table badly drafted, unconstitutional legislation in Parliament.
The FPB Amendment Bill is a legal quagmire that has taken the Committee over a year to finalise, and it will take longer still, because that is how bad it is.
The ongoing litigation between Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the Minister of Telecommunications regarding spectrum auctioning must be resolved.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with ICASA seeking to auction off its spectrum, in order to increase wireless access in South Africa and boost the rollout of faster LTE broadband in order to boost economic growth and job creation.
Finally, Chairperson, I would like to thank you, my colleagues on the Portfolio Committee on Communications, from across the political spectrum under the Chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana.
I think this a greatly improved Committee from previous ones.
Although we have very heated debates, and we disagree often, I believe most of us are committed to fixing the problems in this Portfolio.
I look forward to vigorously maintaining oversight over the Department of Communications with you.