Icasa on Monday said it has instructed its attorneys to file papers against communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and her department after they failed to release the first tranche of annual funding to the ICT sector regulator over an apparent dispute over the licensing of 5G spectrum.
Acting Icasa chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng took the unusual move of flexing the regulator’s muscles, reminding the minister at a press conference in Pretoria of its independence of the executive arm of government and telling her she is legally prohibited from holding back the first tranche of its annual budget, worth over R100-million. (Icasa’s total annual budget is about R450-million.)
Modimoeng said Icasa has instructed its attorneys to file an urgent application against the minister in the high court in Pretoria, seeking the court to instruct Ndabeni-Abrahams to make urgent payment to the regulator. Failing this, he warned that the authority won’t be able to pay its suppliers or employees and its operations could grind to a halt.
“Icasa was established under the constitution. No person or organ of state may interfere with chapter 9 institutions, and this includes Icasa,” Modimoeng said. “The authority is independent and is subject only to the constitution and the law.”
He added that Icasa must be allowed to function without any political interference and that the minister is not legally entitled to withhold its budget, even if she disagrees with its annual performance plan, which was approved by its decision-making council. “The money has been unlawfully withheld by the department of communications.”
The failure by the department to pay the first tranche of the budget “has dire consequences for Icasa”, he said. If payment is not immediately forthcoming, it would be “tantamount to a total shutdown of the regulator”.
He said Icasa has not yet engaged with Ndabeni-Abrahams on the dispute, at least not in a formal setting. He said there may be misunderstandings over Icasa’s plans around the licensing of 5G spectrum. He declined to say what the performance plan says about 5G specifically, but added that the document will be released in due course.
“The situation is dire. It was not our intention to go to the courts. That’s not how we want to engage with our stakeholders, but we have been left with no other option,” Modimoeng said.
City Press reported on Sunday that a “war” had broken out between Icasa and Ndabeni-Abrahams, who stood accused of withholding the regulator’s funding by allegedly refusing to approve the annual performance plan.
According to the newspaper, Icasa wrote to the minister last Friday, threatening court action if her department failed to pay the first of four tranches of its annual budget by 11am on Monday. — © 2019 NewsCentral Media