A joint sitting in parliament on digital migration was packed to the rafters this morning. But the stars of the show, communications minister Faith Muthambi and telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, failed to appear.
Their deputies, Hlengiwe Mkhize at telecoms and Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at communications, were also no-shows.
The sitting was meant to discuss South Africa’s preparedness for the long-delayed migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.
On Sunday, Muthambi released a statement finally clarifying that government would not encrypt the digital signal.
The sitting got off to an acrimonious start, with both the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters raising concerns over the absence of the ministers responsible.
EFF MP Mbuyseni Ndlozi was clear that the presence of the ministers was essential so they could answer questions on digital migration.
“We don’t want to talk to officials … not bureaucrats … every time I have spoken to them they say these are political decisions and they don’t know. We want to speak to the minister … [she]must come and account … not a bureaucrat from the department.”
Cwele’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, was not immediately able to say why the telecoms minister had not gone to parliament.
Although Cwele is not directly responsible for digital migration, the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa), which is responsible for the multibillion-rand set-top box tender, is answerable to him.
Muthambi’s spokesman Ayanda Hollow could not be reached for comment.
Muthambi was attending the 2015 World Communication Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to a statement on the communications department website.
DA MP Marian Shinn said she had hoped Muthambi would explain several decisions around the set-top box issue. “We are here to interrogate a cabinet decision. I don’t think the officials would be able to answer [questions]on a cabinet decision,” she said at the sitting.
Shinn said she wanted Muthambi to explain just why the 5m boxes would now be free. “This attempt to fudge the issue on encryption is just another delaying tactic. My understanding is that Sentech and other free-to-air broadcasters are already using a set-top box with a conditional access system that has encryption, messaging and an on/off switch. I don’t understand why this set-top box is not used.”
According to Muthambi’s statement on Sunday, the new set-top box would only have an on/off switch to prevent it from being used outside of the country.
Shinn further said that it is strange that government entities responsible for digital migration — Sentech, the Post Office and Usaasa — all report to Cwele, yet for digital migration they report to Muthambi, by way of a presidential proclamation.
She said it is “obvious” that Usaasa was taken by surprise by the decision to subsidise 100% of the cost of the set-top boxes.
Communications department acting director-general Donald Liphoko said the policy on digital migration will be gazetted next week. This will include guidelines on the control system. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media