For the second year in a row, the national budget has provided few details on a project to connect municipalities to broadband technology.
Finance minister Pravin Gordhan delivered the 2016 national budget speech in parliament on Wednesday in Cape Town.
But, like former minister Nhlanhla Nene, Gordhan’s speech had little to say on broadband expenditure as he only briefly addressed government’s plan to connect eight municipalities to broadband.
Over the budget period “R1,6bn is allocated to the South Africa Connect broadband programme to support access in remote areas and of schools, healthcare facilities and government institutions”, said Gordhan.
In 2015, Nene said that “R1,1bn is allocated for broadband connectivity in government institutions and schools”.
The successive budget speeches have provided few details on South Africa Connect.
Adrian Schofield, of the applied research unit at the Jo’burg Centre for Software Engineering, said it’s no surprise government has paid little attention to broadband.
“In spite of the consistent input from policy advisers that IT in all its forms is an essential ingredient of a successful economy, the ANC government has never paid more than lip service to implementing technology to improve efficiency and service delivery,” said Schofield.
“Where the government does implement — or inhibit — the use of technology, it is usually as a control mechanism, rather than to facilitate growth and development.
“Such initiatives as have surfaced have generally done so in spite of policy rather than because of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mark Walker, associate vice-president at International Data Corp in sub-Saharan Africa, said that R1,6bn may sufficiently cover South Africa Connect’s cost requirements.
“The question that arises is the quantum of money that has been put aside to roll out broadband is very small,” Walker said.
“Is government waiting for the private sector to take up these projects?” Walker asked.
Earlier this month, the department of telecommunications & postal services said that a lead agent for the South Africa Connect project had not yet been chosen.
The department said this was despite President Jacob Zuma having said in his state of the nation address last year that Telkom would be the lead agent for this project.
A Bloomberg report earlier this month also said that Telkom is close to winning the deal, prompting questions from critics about why an open tender process had not been launched. Telkom further declined to comment on the matter.
At the state of the nation address for 2016, Zuma said that government planned to spend R740m on the first phase of South Africa Connect.
“Government will fast-track the implementation of the first phase of broadband roll-out to connect more than 5 000 government facilities in eight district municipalities over a three-year period,” Zuma said.