Controversy at policy colloquium - TechCentral

Controversy at policy colloquium

Rosey Sekese

The department of communications’ colloquium to discuss a review of policies governing SA’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector saw controversy on Friday after a commission set up to discuss telecommunications at the two-day event appeared to have failed to delve meaningfully into the issues it was asked to.

The reportback from the commission’s chair, Vodacom’s Pakamile Pongwana, earned a rebuke from the department’s deputy director-general, Themba Phiri, who said it had “clearly deviated from its mandate”.

Pongwana said in his presentation that there was a lot of debate in the telecoms commission about whether it was correct to adopt a “silo” approach to discussing policy issues in the sector in light of the fact that the colloquium was there to discuss an integrated national ICT policy for the country. “If we have to take a fresh look at the whole policy landscape, we have to move to an ecosystem approach.”

Pongwana presented a graphical representation of all aspects of the industry, with the end user at the centre of the image. But a few delegates at the colloquium used an electronic communication system supplied by organiser Deloitte to express disappointment at the fact that the telecoms commission appeared not to have dealt with any substantive issues.

But some members of the commission, including Research ICT Africa executive director Alison Gillwald, defended the reportback, saying it had concluded it was helpful to produce a framework for everything that had to do be dealt with at the colloquium. “We were suggesting this framework could be used to locate all the other commissions and be integrated and fulfil the overall mandate provided here.”

Pongwana also defended the telecoms commission, saying the colloquium was meant for discussion and not consensus. “We could go into a debate over this, but the point about it was that because we are all sole representatives of the public, we have the right to suggest to the department a different way of approaching it.”

He said this was only the “beginning of the beginning of a process” and would “still be opened up”.

“It was saying constructively, as citizens of this country, how do we think we can suggest another way of soliciting inputs because those inputs are still going to be solicited?” Pongwana said.

Ending the colloquium on Friday afternoon, communications department director-general Rosey Sekese said the next step was to create a “green paper” discussion document on a national integrated ICT policy by December 2012. A more refined “white paper” would be published by December 2013, with legislation to follow in 2014.  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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