Communications collapse certain under Mokonyane

Please find attached a soundbite by DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP.
If he intends to keep his promise to South Africa of a “New Dawn” President Cyril Ramaphosa will immediately reverse the appointment of Nomvula Mokonyane as Minister of Communications.
We commend and are in full agreement with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) decision to take a firm stand against her appointment yesterday stating: “In reality, Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has left a department that has completely collapsed. It is worrying that she is now a Minister of Communications at a time when the South African Broadcasting Corporation is recovering.”
We challenge and encourage the Portfolio Committee on Communications to also voice their objection to her appointment. The committee can count on the DA’s support in taking a stand against Mokonyane.
Parliament has worked extremely hard to steer the Department of Communications and its entities, and in particular the SABC, to calm waters, we cannot allow actions that to be undone by a Minister who has demonstrated utter failure at managing a government department.
Mokonyane not suited to be Minister of Communications, or any other Cabinet position, as a matter of fact.
In addition to bringing the Department of Water and Sanitation to its knees and unable to manage South Africa’s national drought crisis, she has been implicated in a host of corruption and mismanagement scandals.
Some of the Minister’s controversies include, but are not limited to the following:

  • During her tenure as Premier of Gauteng, over R3.25 million was spent to maintain her official residence, including R2.70 million on refurbishment of the main bedroom, en-suite bath room, kitchen, laundry, dressing room closet, curtains and bedding, and furniture. A further R570 000 was spent on fixing the swimming pool.
  • Allegedly being in cahoots with Reggie Nkabinde, the national treasurer of the ANC Youth League to use Mabala Noise, his record label, as a front to launder millions received in tenders from Mokonyane’s Department.
  • In 2004, during her tenure as Gauteng Housing MEC, three years after a R58-million tender was awarded to a company and not a single RDP house had been built. By the time Mokonyane was Premier in 2009, no official has been disciplined and not a single cent recovered from the company.
  • She was reported to the Public Protector in 2016 after allegations emerged of her delaying South Africa’s Lesotho Highlands Water Project, allegedly in order to award contracts to a company she has a long-standing relationship with.
  • Mokonyane also controversially merged two powerful water boards – Umgeni and Mhlathuze, in KwaZulu-Natal, and forced the appointment of the controversial Dudu Myeni as Chairperson, who was later removed by the courts.

These are but a few in a range of allegations of corruption, and mismanagement Mokonyane has been involved in. Not to mention her various bizarre and reckless utterances about “picking up the rand”, and defending Zuma “ka dibono”
ICASA, the SABC and the MDDA are all in deep in crises. The Department of Communications requires decisive leadership, and Mokonyane is simply not it.
The DA firmly rejects her appointment. She can be deployed elsewhere within the ANC if the party so please but, not in the Department of Communications, or anywhere else government.

Multichoice press conference provides more questions than answers

The Multichoice press conference this afternoon provided very few answers, and left many questions unanswered.

While we welcome Multichoice’s efforts in conducting its own review of its carriage agreement with Gupta-owned ANN7, it is difficult to objectively assess the findings of its investigations without sight of the full report.

A press statement, scant on detail, vaguely admitting “mistakes were made”, and holding no one accountable for those “mistakes”, simply does not cut it.

The public needs to know the whole truth about the dealings between Multichoice, ANN7 and the SABC.

It is quite clear now that the ICASA probe is more important than ever to ensure that the full facts are put on the table, and those responsible for any wrongdoing are held accountable.

In addition to requesting ICASA subpoena all contract pertaining to both deals from Multichoice, the DA will request that it also do the same for ANN7.

In terms clause 7.2 of ICASA’s Subscription Broadcasting Services Regulations:

“A licensee may, by notice directed to him or her, be required to produce or furnish to the Authority, at a time and place specified in the notice such records, including documents, accounts, estimates, returns and information as may be specified in such notice and relating to any matter in respect of which a duty or obligation is imposed on the licensee by the Act or these regulations or by the relevant licence.

In a statement today, ICASA confirmed that intends to “request copies of the contracts concluded between Multichoice and ANN7 as well as between Multichoice and the SABC” as per the DA’s request. We trust that ICASA will flex its muscles and subpoena all records, including documents, accounts, estimates, returns and information from both Multichoice, SABC and ANN7. Failure by any broadcaster to comply should result in criminal action.

The DA further notes Multichoice’s plans to terminate their contract with ANN7 this year. The DA supports a plurality of voices in the media space, and do not believe in shutting down of those we do not agree with. This matter was never about whether ANN7 should be on air, but about the exchange of money allegedly to influence government policy.

The DA will continue to fight for the diversity in the media space and root out any instance where private interest seek to manipulate government policies.

ICASA confirms investigation of Multichoice payments to ANN7 and SABC

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has confirmed that it will be conducting an investigation into Multichoice.

This follows a complaint lodged by the DA in November last year requesting that ICASA conduct an inquiry into payments made by Multichoice to ANN7 and the SABC, allegedly in exchange for political influence over government policy on Digital Migration, in its favour.

In a letter, ICASA indicates that the matter has been referred to its Compliance and Consumer Affairs division for investigation.

The DA is pleased that ICASA has agreed that the payments require investigation.

South Africa deserves to know whether the payments were indeed above board, as Multichoice has maintained.

The DA believes that while companies like Multichoice should be allowed the space to do business and create much-needed employment, their conduct must at all times be within the bounds of the law, in line with business ethics and in an environment where competition is not stifled.

There is no issue with companies lobbying for policy positions through debate, but a situation where policy is bought cannot be allowed. It is tantamount to policy capture.

The DA looks forward to further engaging with ICASA on this matter for clarity to be provided once and for all.

ICASA response to DA request for Multichoice investigation now 8 weeks late

It has been 8 weeks since the DA submitted a request to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) for an investigation into Multichoice’s payments to ANN7 and the SABC, allegedly in exchange for influence of government policy in its favour.

The DA has written to ICASA requesting its urgent feedback on this important matter.

It is ICASA’s duty, to take this matter up in the public interest, and in particular, on behalf of those South Africans who part with their hard-earned money every month for DSTV subscription fees. They deserve to know whether their money was used by Multichoice to grease the palms of the Gupta family.

Last year, the DA revealed SABC board minutes dated 6 June 2013, which suggests that Multichoice sought to pay the SABC R100 million for its 24-hour news channel in exchange for the SABC’s political influence over digital migration. This also supports allegations in the media, that Multichoice had paid Gupta-owned ANN7 millions in exchange for similar influence over government’s position on set-top boxes.

The meeting was attended by the then interim SABC Board, SABC executives and then Multichoice CEO, Imtiaz Patel. At the meeting, Patel stated that “[w]e would not normally pay for a news channel” but that he would be able to convince the Multichoice board members on the condition the SABC exert their influence over former Communications Minister, Faith Muthambi.

It was for this reason the DA wrote to ICASA in terms of Section 4B (1) of the ICASA Act, to request for an inquiry into these allegations, and furthermore requested that Multichoice contracts with the SABC and ANN7 be made public.

Although ICASA publicly acknowledged receiving our request, we are yet to receive any correspondence. Even with the magnitude of these allegations, ICASA has failed to act promptly and take serious action against Multichoice for these allegations of unethical conduct.

The DA has always been a proponent of companies conducting their business in a free market system, however, they have a responsibility to at all times adhere to the rules, laws and ethics that oversee business practices.

As the foremost communications regulator in South Africa, ICASA has the responsibility to probe these allegations without further delay.

Rubben Mohlaloga fraud conviction disqualifies him from serving as ICASA Chairperson

Note to Editors: Please find attached a soundbite by the DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP

Rubben Mohlaloga, who has been recommended by the ANC in Parliament to serve as the Chairperson of the ICASA Council has this week been convicted of fraud, and is therefore disqualified from serving on the Council.

According to a statement released by the Hawks, Mohlaloga and three others, have been found guilty of defrauding the Land Bank of approximately R6 million in 2008. The three transferred funds from the Agri-BEE fund, money intended for poor farmers, into a trust account and bought a farm for R2 million as well as an X5 BMW and a BMW 118i for Mohlaloga, who was an ANC MP and the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Agriculture at the time.

The fact that he has been found guilty of fraud means that he no longer qualifies to serve on the ICASA council.

Section 6 of the ICASA Act states that “[a] person may not be appointed as a councillor if he or she has at any time been convicted, whether in the Republic of elsewhere, of theft, fraud, forgery or uttering a forged document, perjury, an offence in terms of the Corruption Act or any other offence involving dishonesty”.

Seeing that Mohlaloga is yet to be formally appointed to the ICASA Council by President Jacob Zuma, the responsibility now rests on him to immediately halt his appointment. The DA will write to President Zuma requesting that he does not appoint Mohlaloga to the ICASA Council.

It is well known that Mohlaloga has a chequered past and Parliament should not have approved his appointment, it did so despite the DA’s objection.

Our Communications entities have been crippled by corruption because of the ANC’s cadre deployment and political interference.

The DA will continue to use our platform in Parliament to fight for the integrity of our state entities and to prevent them from being overrun by compromised crooks in order to once again restore the public’s faith in state entities.

As former Communications Minister confirms Multichoice allegations, ICASA & Parliament must act

Honourable Chairperson,
The DA will not be supporting this report, for one main reason, the Minister’s recommendation for the appointment of Rubben Mohlaloga as Chairperson of the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
It is our belief that cadre deployment is one of the main causes of the problems facing state-owned entities, and with Mohlaloga having previously served as an MP for the ANC and a Deputy President of the ANCYL, he is just that.
We do hope that Mr Mohlaloga will prove us wrong, and will demonstrate leadership that will be independently-minded, and focused on taking ICASA to greater heights.
The biggest task facing Mr Mahlaloga will be an inquiry the DA has requested into payments made by Multichoice to ANN7 and the SABC.
Yesterday, the DA revealed SABC board minutes dated 6 June 2013 suggesting that Multichoice sought to pay the SABC R100 million a year for its 24-hour news channel in exchange for the public broadcaster’s political influence over digital migration.
This notion has since been confirmed by the former Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, who is quoted in the media today stating that: “…Multichoice was seeking to change government policy to serve its own interests”, and he “…felt it wrong for a private company to seek to buy government policy in this way so that it could retain its 98% dominance of the pay-TV sector”. 
This is very serious indeed, and ICASA must exercise the very broad powers the ICASA Act gives it to investigate this. It is ICASA’s duty, to take this matter up in the public interest, and in particular, on behalf of those who use the very little they earn to fork our subscription fees for DSTV. It cannot be that their hard-earned money is used by Multichoice for nefarious deeds.
In addition, it is important for us in Parliament to do the same.
The Communications Committee must discharge of its duty to conduct an inquiry into allegations of State Capture relating to the former Communications Minister, Faith Muthambi as it was requested by the Deputy Speaker.
We believe that in that inquiry the following people must be included in those summoned:

  • Former Communications Ministers, Faith Muthambi, Yunus Carrim and Dina Pule
  • Former CEO of Multichoice, Imtiaz Patel
  • Multichoice’s executive chairman, Nolo Letele
  • Naspers CEO, Bob van Dijk
  • Former SABC board Chairperson, Ellen Tshabalala; and
  • Former CEO Lulama Makhobo

We look forward to feedback from ICASA, and also, the Minister of Communications, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane who has thus far remained silent on the SABC and Multichoice matter, and indeed, her views about the encryption of set-top boxes. What will it be Minister? Encrypted or unencrypted?

DA refers Multichoice to ICASA following fresh kickback allegations

The DA can reveal SABC board minutes dated 6 June 2013 suggesting that Multichoice sought to pay the SABC R100 million for its 24-hour news channel in exchange for the public broadcaster’s political influence over digital migration.
The minutes form part of hundreds of documents provided by the SABC in December 2016 to the Ad Hoc Committee on the SABC Inquiry, and support allegations in media reports last week that Multichoice paid Gupta-owned ANN7 millions in exchange for similar influence over government’s position on set-top boxes.
The minutes reveal a “clandestine” meeting attended by former SABC board members and executives, including Ellen Tshabalala, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Lulama Makhobo and Jimi Matthews, with the then CEO of Multichoice, Imtiaz Patel.
Patel was at pains during the meeting to explain that Multichoice does not ordinarily pay TV stations for their news channels to be aired on DSTV, but he would be able to convince the Multichoice board to pay for the SABC’s 24-hour news channel, if a set of “deal-breaker” conditions in Multichoice’s favour were met.
One of the conditions was changing government’s position on set-top boxes to favour Multichoice.
During the meeting, Patel informs the SABC:
We would not normally pay for a news channel. Ok. We don’t. There’s a unique relationship with eTV that everybody espouses etc. It’s got unique conditions. They’re supposed to supply us with many more channels and it’s quite tricky at this point in time. But, besides that we don’t pay for any other news channel, anyway, ok.”
He goes on to state:
“…we need to justify to our Board to say why would we pay you R100m a year which is a lot of money. Ok. It’s after tax money. To make R100m net you have to make R150m or R200m, R300m in turnover. We are looking for the excuse and the excuse for us is to be able to justify to our Board that you are giving us something in return. What are you giving us in return for the R100m? We’re saying you giving us a news channel, you’re giving us a general entertainment channel from your archives, your old, you know. We are less focused on the core elements of it being new content. And we’ve been sort of quite open about it with Lulama, saying even if it’s old stock. And thirdly, we are saying we also need to justify this problem of conditional access [unencrypted set-top boxes] is a big problem. And in order to justify that we’re saying in addition to that, your additional channels will be available on our platform.”
Patel also says:
So, in addition to the R100m in cash, you will be getting a lot of advertising revenue, probably the equivalent, even more, I don’t know, I don’t know the details, I don’t know to what extent, you know, given that kind of base, how much you can monetise it. In return, we can justify to our Board that, we are paying this extraordinary sum of money but we are getting something for it. That was the simple logic that we applied in our own minds. So I’m giving you a sense and therefore I’m hoping that if we can co-create a solution, we are also happy to co-create a solution. We are not coming here saying this is, you know, this is the be all and end all, you know. But I must say though, Lulama, that this is the very important point for us. It’s a deal breaker point, I’ll be honest. And I have re-iterated it. I have said this to you before. 
The implications of Multichoice paying kickbacks in order, to not only solidify its dominance in the pay-TV sector, but also secure influence over government policy in its favour are serious.
It speaks to a company willing to stop at nothing, including paying kickbacks to the Gupta family, thus supporting State Capture, in order to get its way. (It is an undisputed fact that two years after this meeting, and the payments to ANN7, digital migration policy was changed to Multichoice’s favour).
The DA believes that while companies should be allowed the space to conduct business in a free market system, there must be adherence to business ethics and the law.
This matter, and in particular the payments, now require thorough investigation by South Africa’s broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The DA has today written to ICASA requesting an investigation in terms of Section 4B(1) of the ICASA Act.
The DA had hoped that following the media reports about ANN7 last week, Multichoice would take the opportunity to play open cards by revealing all. It refused to do so. It is now left to ICASA to reveal the truth.
We hope that ICASA will finally flex its muscle and take a clear stand against what appears to be seriously unethical conduct by a company it regulates.

DA calls for public release of Multichoice Gupta-TV contract & pushes for parliamentary enquiry

The DA calls on Multichoice to publicly release the full contracts it entered into with Gupta owned TV station, ANN7, as well as the record of the prior negotiations.
This follows the latest revelations in the Gupta leaks about questionable payments made by Multichoice to ANN7, as well as the involvement of former Communications Minister, Faith Muthambi.
If there is indeed nothing untoward about the nature of its dealings with the Gupta family, Multichoice will have no issue publishing the requested documents for public scrutiny.
Should it fail to do so within 48 hours, the DA will request that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) force it to do so.
In terms of clause 7 of ICASA’s Subscription Broadcasting Services Regulations, as a licensed subscription service provider, Multichoice is required to keep a record of all contracts it enters into, which ICASA has the power to subpoena, as it deems fit.
In terms of Muthambi’s unsurprising involvement, the DA will write to the Chairperson of the Communications Committee, Humphrey Maxegwana requesting that the now overdue inquiry into state capture as was requested of the committee by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Lechesa Tsenoli be scheduled as the first item on the committee’s agenda in 2018.
In August this year, the Portfolio Committee on Communications received a letter from Tsenoli, requesting that the committee investigate state capture, and in particular, allegations pertaining to Muthambi. The latest revelations are an indication that the matter can no longer be delayed.
The DA looks forward to Multichoice’s feedback and questioning Muthambi during the inquiry. This time, she cannot be allowed to escape without being held accountable, if wrongdoing is found.

A to-do list for the new Communications Minister

As the third Communications Minister in 7 months, Mmamoloko Kubayi now faces the monumental task of bringing much-needed stability to the various entities of her department, almost all of which face serious governance and financial crises.
With the experience and knowledge gained as the former Chairperson of Parliament’s Telecommunications and Postal Services portfolio committee, Kubayi will have no choice but to hit the ground running.
First on her agenda will be working hand in hand with the newly appointed SABC board to address issues raised by staff last week, in order to prevent imminent strike action and keep the public broadcaster on air.
Other key issues Minister Kubayi will have to urgently address, include:

  • Full disclosure to Parliament and the public of the application submitted to National Treasury for a R3 billion bail-out for the SABC;
  • Appointment of the SABC’s top executives according to the prescripts of the Broadcasting Act and the SABC Charter;
  • Scrapping the SABC’s problematic Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI);
  • Recommending to the President the immediate suspension of Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) Chairperson, Phelisa Nkomo, who has been implicated in serious financial mismanagement at the entity;
  • Appointing permanent top management at the MDDA, Films and Publications Board (FPB), and the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS); and
  • Investigating the suspension, withdrawing of charges and full payouts to the former CEOs of the FPB and ICASA.

Minister Kubayi has the opportunity to demonstrate to prove South Africa wrong that all she is an enforcer of President Jacob Zuma by tackling without fear or favour the issues facing her department and its entities.
We trust that she will be a responsive, communicative, hard-working, fearless Minister, or we will have no choice but to push for it to be goodbye, Kubayi.

It’s been a year of antagonism between the Minister and the ICT sector

Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Marian Shinn MP, during the Budget Vote on Telecommunications and Postal Services.
About a year ago, the took fright at the National Integrated Information and Communication (ICT) White Paper Policy and within months, gazetted its invitation to network operators to participate in an auction for the much sought after high demand spectrum.
There’s an impolite way to say what happened next, but let’s just say that the fan is still spinning.
It’s been a year of antagonism between the Minister and the ICT sector. Legal battles were launched, there were threats of expropriation, or more benignly, nationalisation of the mobile network business, and mutterings about taking this ANC government all the way to the Constitutional Court to protect the due process of law making and the preservation of private-sector financial investments.
But the hullabaloo around contentious aspects of the White Paper has had some effect. The Minister’s agreement last week to some of the recommendations of the ICT stakeholders, including mobile network operators, must be clearly documented as policy amendments – which is what they are – despite the Minister’s spin of ‘flexibility in implementation’.
All of this angst could have been avoided if the Department’s true focus was on a credible process of delivery of ubiquitous, affordable, robust broadband access for all. Instead, we were presented with a suspiciously spawned network idea that smelled of connected cronies making a grab for other people’s businesses in the guise of radically upending the ICT sector to transform it.
What ICASA saw a long year ago was a policy idea that would introduce a wholesale network monopoly that would inhibit investment in the sector and keep costs high through lack of competition.
The way this ANC government ambushed the ICT sector with a drastic plan that would crush, arguably, the most dynamic and successful economic sector since our democratic dawn, is shocking.
The deluge of critical opinion on the details of the network and the Policy White Paper came from many sources: specialist IT lawyers, business leaders in the sector, academics.
The outcry forced the Minister to encourage informal talks with the sector to get its views on how to ‘implement’ the policy. He was adamant there would be no changes to the policy.
The concessions he has agreed with the core of stakeholders involves allowing the mobile network operators to retain the spectrum they currently use to service their customer bases, as well as access to ‘sufficient’ high-demand spectrum. This will enable them to run in parallel to the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) while committing to be its significant customers.
There’s a legal and operational minefield to traverse here as the WOAN will depend on a share of the operators’ business to survive, and its assigned spectrum might not always be appropriate to the demands of the operators’ customers.
Also, the operators are being asked to commit, now, to using 51% of a network that, even with optimum efficiency, will take at least six years to build. Who knows what the market and the economy will look like in 2022.
We await the written details of the way forward with the new network plan. It must be implemented in a phased approach to test its objectives and refine its implementation.
The plan must be underpinned by thorough, credible research, on the financial, economic and social impacts. It cannot be another shoddy, tick-box job that the Minister reluctantly put out earlier this year to extol the virtues of his policy.
But the promise of open access wireless network is years away. Its birth is hampered by another spectacular ANC government failure: the migration to digital broadcasting that will free up the spectrum needed for the wireless broadband delivery of a vast array of content, applications and services.
This migration is bogged down in the courts thanks to a suspect policy amendment made by Minister Muthambi. The new Minister of Communications indicates that a reversal of this policy is pending.
But this is only the first step in breaking the logjam. There is the seemingly corrupt procurement process for the production of government-sponsored set-top boxes. The process needs to be revised.
Another failure of this ANC government in delivering affordable internet throughout the country is South Africa Connect. The tender to find a lead agency to manage this ambitious project failed last year.
Had the Minister taken the advice of the National Broadband Advisory Council, rather than snubbing it into oblivion, they would have steered him clear of the ‘lead agency’ mistake. Phase 1, announced in SONA 2015, would be well on its way by now.
Despite its mantra of bringing down the cost to communicate and spreading internet connectivity to the farthest and poorest regions of our land, this department is treading water.
Its delivery is weighed down by misguided ANC policies, its hoarding of spectrum, its actions without consideration of consequences and its determination to centralise and control this most dynamic, innovative and fast-paced economic sector.
It creates one talk shop after another to pretend it is listening to the ICT sector players. They’re becoming conference groupies, both here and abroad.
It dreams up policies to create more bureaucracy and establishes boards for connected cronies at the expense of the taxpayers. All of which pushes up costs which taxpayers fund.
The Department has neither the budget nor the resources to deliver on the legislative mandate it has foisted on itself for the next three years.
They should instead focus their energies on key deliverables, such as facilitating and incentivising the investment and rollout of fixed and wireless broadband internet. The Western Cape government gave them a presentation last week on best practice in this field.
Its main messages are: one size doesn’t fit all; devolve responsibility locally; seek innovative solutions relevant to the circumstances and preferably with local providers who are managed to deliver on standards and to deadlines.
This is what a DA-led government does to deliver connectivity. We’ve already proved this where we govern.