I’d like to respond to communications minister Dina Pule’s call for a policy overhaul at this week’s information and communications (ICT) policy colloquium in Midrand. Although Pule should be applauded for taking action in her call for a policy review for the ICT sector, it should come as no surprise that some in the industry remain deeply sceptical.
Speaking at the colloquium, Pule announced a policy review to “overhaul all the legislation in our sector such that they reflect the work that the government does and helps this country and industry to benefit from sustainable ICT development and services for the next 20 years”.
A laudable objective and one that my company would certainly support. However, when taken in the context of the staggering inaction from the department over the last decade, the minister must forgive businesses in the sector if our response is slightly underwhelming.
Reading the outcomes of the first day at the colloquium stirred up feelings of déjà vu. How many times has the ministry, under its various leaders, promised sweeping changes aimed at creating an enabling environment?
When the president announced the appointment of Roy Padayachie as the minister of communications in November 2010, the official line from the department was that he would “accelerate policy implementation and strengthen policy development”.
A similar line was touted when Siphiwe Nyanda came into office around eighteen months before that.
And yet in this time we have seen very little meaningful action. Our spectrum is still contested, the last mile is still controlled by the incumbent, and the industry is still forced to deal with a regulator which simply does not have the resources (financial or human capital) to effectively regulate current legislation.
We acknowledge we have enjoyed some incremental gains over the last few years, but certainly nothing of the sweeping changes promised by each successive leader.
All the while SA has steadily fallen behind in our global digital performance. Universal access remains nothing more than an academic talking point and the cost of broadband sees SA’s global competiveness continue in reverse.
Pule’s comments about “not wanting to rush things” when it comes to making changes seem ill chosen in the current context. And while the desire to do things properly should never be dismissed, we’ve just heard this too many times before.
So, you will have to forgive us, minister, if we are taking your promises of things to come with more than just a little pinch of salt. In the meanwhile, it remains up to industry to continue to innovate and deliver around the inadequate policy and regulatory regime which we have grown accustomed to.
- Tim Wyatt-Gunning is CEO of Web Africa