The announcement by communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams withdrawing the controversial Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, which for three years pitted the ICT sector against the department of telecommunications & postal services, is to be welcomed.
The minister made the announcement in today’s meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee on telecoms & postal services.
We welcome her emphasis on the proposed minimal role that government will play as it realises that the private sector is best able to drive telecoms advances to the benefit of the entire nation. She said government will focus on regulatory and policy matters.
The bill, which was crammed onto the parliamentary programme at the end of last year, was priority legislation that the government wanted passed before the fifth parliament rises in May. The portfolio committee declined to rush it through parliament and was due to recommend at its meeting today that the bill be withdrawn.
The committee questioned the bill’s constitutionality, its tagging in the parliamentary process, and was concerned about the vast chasm caused by the telecoms department’s attempts at “radically” transforming the sector through emasculation of the chapter nine independence of communications regulator Icasa, the centralisation of regulation and power over the sector in the minister and department, the legal establishment of an ostensibly private-sector consortium wireless open-access network that would be handed prized high-demand spectrum, and the infringement on local governments’ operations in granting infrastructure build permissions.
The withdrawal of the bill is a defeat for former departmental officials who played a key role in crafting the ICT policy white paper, starting in 2013, and its subsequent conversion into the bill, and who lobbied the portfolio committee during the public hearings for its acceptance.
The Democratic Alliance looks forward to a more dynamic, investor-friendly regulatory environment that promotes innovation and competition in both wholesale and retail ICT sectors to support the economic and social development needs of South Africa.
- Marian Shinn is a Democratic Alliance MP and the party’s spokeswoman on telecommunications & postal services