DA wants credible impact assessments on new ICT laws

The DA welcomes the undertaking given by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services’ (DTPS) Director General, Mr Robert Nkuna, to consider assessing the financial and economic impact of new radical legislation, currently being drafted, on South Africa’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

The DTPS is drafting various bills arising from the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper gazetted last September. Public hearings and Socio-Economic Impact Assessments (SEIA) on the bills will be conducted, firstly on the Digital Development Fund Bill, the Economic Regulator and Tribunal Bill and the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services, the DA criticised the value of the SEIA done on the White Paper’s controversial proposals and asked Mr Nkuna to undertake properly researched financial impact assessments of the proposed legislation on the entire ICT sector.

He agreed to consider the DA’s request.

No financial impact assessment was done on the White Paper’s far-reaching and controversial proposal to establish a national Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) by, in effect, expropriating the business operations of the mobile network operators.

This plan to incorporate the business of private sector operators into the WOAN has been widely criticised as unconstitutional, a major deterrent to further investment in mobile communications infrastructure and operations, and creating an anti-competitive wholesale monopoly.

On 12 October 2016, the DA submitted a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) application to the department for any impact assessment done in support of the White Paper. It was ignored. At the end of November, the DA submitted an appeal to the DTPS. This was also ignored.

In response to a DA parliamentary question, submitted in February 2017, enquiring why no impact assessment had been done, the DTPS replied that a SEIA had been done. This was appended to the reply and the document suddenly appeared on the department’s website. It is little more than a checklist of wishful thinking on the assumed, nice-to-haves of the policy. There is no hard evidence of the economic impact of the policy.

If Minister’ of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, wants to legislate the radical economic transformation of South Africa’s vibrant and technically advanced ICT sector he best be armed with credible research that informs him of the future ICT environment his laws will create.