Thursday, October 16, 2014

Communications Minister must abide by the Law

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition notes with concern media reports that the Minister of Communications has allegedly refused to allow outgoing ICASA Councillors to continue to work until their replacement councillors’ terms of office commence. 

ICASA, as the regulator of the electronic communications and postal sectors, is critically important and the Council is, obviously, the engine of the regulator. 

Section 7(4) of the ICASA Act stipulates that a councillor stays on after the expiry of his or her term of office until the commencement of the term of office of his or her successor councillor for a maximum of 45 days. 

It is important to state that this happens as a matter of law, and the Minister (nor any other body) has the legal authority to purport to tell an outgoing Councillor that he or she may not stay on in office as provided for in the ICASA Act. 

As the public is well aware, the SABC and the Post Office are both in a state of crisis and there are a number of important regulatory processes, including in respect of competition in the ICT sector, are currently underway before ICASA. Consequently the public needs a functioning and effective ICASA that is able to keep up with the demands of the sector. 

Section 5(1) of the ICASA Act determines that the ICASA Council is made up of a Chairperson and eight other Councillors. Currently two ICASA councillors’ terms of office ended at the end of September and two more are due to end their terms of office at the end of October. Worryingly, Parliament has yet to even call for public nominations to replace these outgoing Councillors, far less be finalising the recommendation process which takes time and is required to be open and transparent. 

SOS has no knowledge of the Minister’s intentions regarding her purported interference in the outgoing Councillors’ ability to continue working for 45 days or until their successors’ terms of office commence, but the clear effect of this unlawful interference would be to severely undermine ICASA’s capacity to perform its functions as it reduces the Council to only five people – just over half its members.

SOS calls on the Minister to cease and desist from interfering in ICASA’s ability to perform its functions immediately, and to allow the outgoing Councillors to continue to perform their functions as they are required to do as a matter of law. 

Further, SOS calls on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications urgently to call for public nominations for four ICASA Councillors and to get on with the critically important process of ensuring that people who are able to act in the public interest are shortlisted for appointment by the Minister following a public and transparent shortlisting process. 

For more information contact:
Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi
076 084 8077

The SOS Coalition represents a broad spectrum of civil society stakeholders committed to the broadcasting of quality, diverse, citizen-orientated public-interest programming aligned to the goals of the South African Constitution. The Coalition includes a number of trade union federations including COSATU and FEDUSA, a number of independent unions including BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production  sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), SECTION27 and a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.