Democratic Alliance spokesman on communications Gavin Davis says the party believes communications minister Faith Muthambi acted unlawfully when she sent letters to four councillors at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) asking them to leave their posts before completing a customary 45-day handover period.
Davis says he is in possession of the letters sent to councillors William Currie, Joseph Lebooa, Miki Ndhlovu and William Stucke. In it, he says, Muthambi writes: “Section 7(4) of the Icasa Act as amended makes provision for councillors whose term of office has come to an end to remain in office for an extended period not exceeding 45 working days pending finalisation of the selection/appointment process for their successors. Since your contract has ended, I wish to inform you that the above section will not apply.”
Davis says in a statement that there is “nothing in the legislation that gives the minister the right to revoke this 45 working day extension”.
“The extension is automatic if no replacements have been appointed,” he says. “The fact is that no progress has been made to replace the four councillors. The portfolio committee on communications still needs to advertise the vacancies, embark on a nomination process and provide the minister with a shortlist of six candidates. There is no chance of this happening before the end of the forty-five working day extension.”
The four-year terms of Lebooa and Currie finished at the end of September; those of Stucke and Ndhlovu will finish at the end of October.
On Wednesday, Icasa chairman Stephen Mncube moved to downplay the impact of Muthambi’s decision to ask four of the communications regulator’s councillors to leave before they had served the customary handover period.
“The Icasa Act, as amended, provides for the continued and legitimate decision making by the council of Icasa, even in instances where there are fewer councillors in office at any given time, as has been the case previously,” Mncube said in the statement.
“There have, in the past, been periods when there was less than the full complement of councillors in office and this did not impede decision making or bring into question the legitimacy of decisions,” he said.
Telecoms lawyer and consultant Kerron Edmunson said on Tuesday that Muthambi has instructed the four to go.
“At the end of October, four councillors will end their terms of office,” Edmunson said.
She said the development was “extremely worrying”, with a simple majority of just three out of five votes needed to make crucial decisions affecting the sector. She’s concerned that politically motivated decisions will be pushed through that are not necessarily in the interests of the sector.
Davis now says he intends calling on Muthambi to appear before the communications portfolio committee to explain her decision. “In particular, she must explain what authority she has in law to revoke the 45-day extension as provided for in the Icasa Act,” he says.
He also wants the minister to explain why she “moved to dismiss the councillors, despite the fact that the portfolio committee has not begun the process of appointing new councillors”.
“Icasa has a mandate to regulate the SABC and allocate high-demand spectrum, communications infrastructure, commercial radio and TV licensing. This kind of government interference will fuel speculation that minister Muthambi wishes to control the broadcast regulator as part of government’s plans to create a department of propaganda.” — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media