CEO’s, Chairs and all representatives from our various State Entities,
Representatives from the Private Sector in your various capacities,
Civil society organisations present,
Trade Unions and all labour organisations,
Senior government officials
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to address you this morning in this our historic inaugural National ICT Forum. The high speed internet or broadband over the last three decades has been driving the unprecedented social and economic revolution through its capacity to transmit large chunks of information within nations and across borders. This revolution has resulted in what we call the modern Information Society, which has transformed the way people live and the way they relate with each other and society in general. In short, ICTs are critical enablers of social and economic activity in an increasingly connected world. These are the fundamental pillars that drive development in every aspect of modern development.
However, this ICT globalisation does to allocate resources equally to the drivers, passengers and bystanders but produces enormous opportunities to those who actively take advantage of it. If it is left on autopilot it will continue sharpening inequality between and within communities as well as nations. The objective of our government is to produce an inclusive Information Society where there is a fair and equitable participation of all citizens is the use of ICT’s in line with the objectives of equal society that is envisaged by the Freedom Charter, which is celebrating 60 years this year.
For South Africa to be competitive, we need long term policy certainty and a demonstrable capacity to implement such policy. We need a National ICT Forum comprising of government, industry and civil society to engage on critical ICT issues and matters of mutual interest as we enter the Information Society Highway that will enable us to be active participants in the global Information Society. This competitiveness and the development of an inclusive information society is what will unleash our national potential and take South Africa to the next trajectory of socio-economic development. While the National Development Plan directs government to take primary responsibility to implement the plan, it also recognises the importance to galvanise key stakeholders and citizens to work together in addressing the challenges of underdevelopment including unemployment, inequality and poverty. This is to be achieved in part through government led platforms that encourage engagement on government’s key programmes of action to monitor the impact policy interventions have in the lives of ordinary South Africans. These platforms must encourage participants to go beyond public consultations in government policy formulation but actively engage with the implementation of policy for their benefit.
There are currently various fora of engagement between government and ICT sector such as Broadband Advisory Council, ICT Review Panel, etc. All these fora are useful but are limited as they are issue-based and are structured to interact with specific stakeholders. For us to enter the ICT revolution we require all our soldiers. We need to mobilise the greater number and diversity of stakeholders in order to push from all fronts. The ICT Forum is intended to compliment the existing fora and to mobilise everyone to participate in and advance the ICT revolution as an enabler for our socio-economic development. The ICT Forum is responding to this call by mobilising South Africans to dialogue about, inter alia, the implementation of our National Broadband Plan, finalisation and implementation of the Integrated ICT Policy, improve access and uptake of ICTs and bolster partition and transformation. The forum calls for partnership and collaboration in the implementation of policies, strategies and plans as we build an information society and improve SA ranking in the global ICT indicators.
Why a National ICT Forum?
The ICT sector has been recognised to operate at two levels. The sector is an economic sector that is important to the economy in its own right. It contributes no less than 6% to the GDP according to the latest statistics. It is important that the size of this contribution is increased so that we create jobs and improve national wealth. We all have a role to play but our sector must play even greater role in achieving 5% growth by 2020. The ICT Forum provides a platform for all of us to engage and devise strategies of growing the ICT sector for the benefit of the economy. There is second aspect of the ICTs that makes the need for the ICT Forum important and that which cannot be overemphasized. We all now agree that it is virtually impossible to do anything efficiently without the use of the modern information and communication tools. These tools are now necessary whether we talk government delivery, commerce and trade, teaching and learning, entertainment, agriculture and farming etc. The discussions about the the ICTs and their use can no longer be confined to the technical astute or the techies as they used to be called. It is now a conversation that needs the participation by all precisely because the deployment, use and understanding of the ICTs affect all of us. This is the reason we have people gathered here coming from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. We all have a stake in the development of an inclusive ICT environment that will impact on the things that we do when we work, play and conduct our business. The ICT Forum we are launching today enables us to listen to all the voices.
In 2012 ANC government noted the deficiencies in the current state of the ICT sector which include the lack of a comprehensive National ICT Policy, limited and misaligned research and development; and weaknesses by policy and regulatory institutions to enforce compliance, amongst others. We resolved that there is a need for government to cultivate enhanced policy-making capacity for the ICT sector that will drive development in these areas. The resolution mandated the need for the establishment of a National ICT Forum where government and industry alongside civil society would engage on issues of mutual interest and partner in driving the development and implementation of policy in the sector. We are confident that this platform will not be a talk shop as our operational plan will ensure that stakeholders play a meaningful role in the implementation of our ICT policy.
The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is working towards the creation of a coherent and co-ordinated National Policy Framework and Strategy on ICT’s to improve these indicators, the National ICT Forum is a strategic platform where government, industry and civil society will engage to ensure that policy is in line with national objectives and is implementable, constructively assess progress made in implementation of policy and strengthen partnerships on initiatives that will contribute to the sector’s development. Further to that, it is my vision that the National ICT Forum serves as an instrumental body for coordinating efforts where as a sector we need to mobilise and take collective action on issues which directly impact on the state of ICT’s in South Africa. Through the activities of the forum, we will work to develop and strengthen long term relationships between ICT sector stakeholders and improve national capacity through knowledge sharing, experiences, ideas and best practices and improve our global ICT indicators.
Forum membership and participation
I instructed the Department to engage in a consultative process to solicit input from the sector on how the National ICT Forum should be structured. I am aware that as a sector you have responded positively with suggestions on how we can ensure that the forum is a vehicle for positive engagement between government, civil society organisations in the ICT space, ICT private sector stakeholders and ordinary South Africans. I am pleased that some stakeholders have already pledged to contribute resources in the form of human capital to support the work of the forum. The concerns around the institutionalisation and continuity of the forum are receiving attention and will be addressed appropriately. As our commitment to operationalising the forum, the Department has committed financial resources just under a million rand for this financial year towards supporting the activities of the forum.
The forum’s membership will ultimately comprise of all the three spheres of government. State Owned Companies and Organisations, academic institutions, private sector companies in the major categories of business, trade unions and community organisations have also been invited to be members of the forum. The meetings of the forum will be open to representatives from all spheres of government, academia, advocacy groups, state entities, private sector companies, subject matter experts and ordinary South Africans.
In operationalising the forum, the Department has organised participation in the forum based on four (4) thematic areas of consultation to enable structured dialogues that speak to current developments in the ICT sector. The content of the thematic areas of consultation is not cast in stone and will be reviewed from time to time to ensure that it speaks to the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in the sector. The currently identified thematic areas have been arranged into four (4) chambers which are the social chamber, the economic chamber, the governance and security chamber and the ICT’s disability chamber. A resounding call that government needs to move swiftly and implement e-government was made by all stakeholders who participated in the National Integrated ICT Policy Review. In response to this call, a social chamber has been established in the forum and will deal with government’s e-strategy, particularly e-government which is a critical area of service delivery that will directly promote socio-economic development and aggregate the demand of ICT services. This chamber will speak to the coordination of programmes for the implementation of e-health, e-education, e-agriculture and e-justice just to name a few.
South Africa has an unemployment rate of 24.7% with 70.9% of youth between the ages of 15 – 34 unemployed. The National Development Plan has earmarked education and skills development as the solution to unemployment. However, we currently have only 3% of youth between the ages of 20 – 24 enrolled in further education and training programmes. Statistics South Africa further calculates that we only have 6 737 SMME’s in the ICT sector which account for 1,6% of the total number of SMME’s in South Africa while all SMME’s contribute 35% of the Gross Domestic Product and employ 54% of people in private sector formal employment. An economic chamber has been established for the forum and will engage on how to grow the ICT sector through the development of scarce ICT skills, the localisation of manufacturing of ICT hardware such as smart phones and tablets and the transformation of the ICT sector’s ownership and control to reflect national demographics through ICT SMME development. More South Africans are using the internet beyond social media and communication but also for commerce. The banking sector is one of the sectors which has adopted the use of ICT rapidly through internet banking, cellphone banking and mobile app banking.
Cybercrimes have been on the rise on account of the increased use of the internet for these facilities. The governance and security chamber will facilitate dialogue on how best to promote the use of ICT’s for improving the quality of life of ordinary South Africans. The chamber will engage on the promotion of access to information, policies around open government data, privacy provisions, consumer protection and cybersecurity. Consultations on the National ICT Policy Review highlighted that current policy development is silent on how the disabled and the elderly can access ICT’s for improved quality of life and actively participate in the activities of the sector. South Africa imports ICT devices and software that enable the disabled to access and use modern ICT’s. It is for that reason that an ICT’s Disability chamber has been formulated. Participants in this chamber will engage on means through which accessibility of ICT services can be improved through legislation and policy interventions. Beyond the disabled and elderly, this chamber will speak to how ICT policy can be better enhanced to speak to the needs of marginalised groups such as African women in rural areas and unemployed youth just to name a few.
I am told that you have already indicated your choices of chambers in order of preference. Allocated of chambers by the Department will be done in a manner that will balance the strengths of each chamber to contribute towards implementation of the work plans of the chambers. As participants come from government, the ICT industry and civil society, it is expected that voices from all walks of life will shape the work plans and their implementation. I am calling upon all participants to set aside resources in the form of time, expertise and even finances where necessary to contribute towards the deepening of partnerships and advancing the work of the forum.
Beyond these matters, the forum needs to address the issues pertaining to the development of our people in the rural areas. Some of them are living in dire poverty and it is critical that as a sector, we use the forum to address their challenges through ICTs.
Skills development is also critical to ensure that we are in a position to keep up with the demands of skills to grow the sector. I hope the forum can assist in ensuring that we develop relationships with academia to drive the development of these skills.
The Internet is good and we all use it for various uses such as social media, communication and commerce. We have noted that criminals are also active in this space. We are developing a cyberseucurity hub that will assure South Africans continue to use ICTs to improve their lives.
Spectrum is a scarce national resource which must be used for the development of all South Africans. I believe in due time, the forum will also engage on how best we can allocate spectrum for this purpose.
How the forum works
What is imperative at this point is to organise the forum to start working on practical and tangible programmes that will attest to its strategic value to the sector. The Director-General, Ms. Rosey Sekese will arrange a meeting with all the Chairpersons of the chambers and initiate a discussion on the development of work plans that will guide the work of the chambers. DG will convene these meetings in early June to ensure the forum begins working as soon as possible. The Chairpersons will assemble quarterly meetings on the implementation of the chamber work plans. The Department will provide secretariat support to the chambers, monitor all decisions taken with commitments made and evaluate whether progress is being made to meet the objectives of each chamber. All of this will be collated into a report for each chamber that will be presented to the national forum.
As the chair of the National ICT Forum alongside the alternate chair Deputy Minister Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, I will convene two (2) meetings every year with all the chambers of the forum. These meetings will be an opportunity for the chambers to brief myself and the Deputy Minister on progress made on their work plans. As the consolidated voice of the ICT sector, the forum will also meet from time to time as required to address any relevant issues which impact on the ICT sector.
The final output of each meeting of the forum will be a recommendations report that will provide current and on the ground information pertaining to the strengths, gaps, areas of improvement and barriers to the implementation of current ICT policy. This will ensure that I am able to keep track of the impact of ICT policy as it happens on the ground. I will use this information to drive developments in the sector in a manner that will ensure delivery of government’s programme of action.
I would like to take this opportunity to announce the interim chairs of the different chambers. These individuals will be instrumental in kick starting the process to operationalise the forum and work on a draft work plan for adoption.
The chairs are as follows:
1. Economic Chamber – Mr Chose Choeu
2. Social Chamber – Ms Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha
3. Governance and Security Chamber – Mr Tony Parry
4. ICTs and Disability Chamber – Dr. Praveena Sukrash-Aly
Senior officials from the Department have been delegated to represent the voice of the Department in these chambers during policy discussions and work done towards ensuring that policy is implemented. I am proud to announce the following people:
1. Economic Chamber – Mr Themba Phiri
2. Social Chamber – Mrs Nonkqubela Jordaan
3. Governance and Security Chamber – Mr Tinyiko Ngobeni
4. ICTs and Disability Chamber – Ms Petronella Linders
I have also seen it pertinent that we have officials who will offer secretariat services to the chambers. They will ensure that resolutions are monitored and carried through, meetings are organised efficiently and reports are produced on time. The names for this task will be announced later today.
Former President Nelson Mandela was clear that the ICT sector is a critical and fundamental pillar necessary to drive development in South Africa. ICT’s are the single most powerful force directing the modern global economy by transforming the manner in which we communicate with each other, how we conduct business and engage in economic activity and the means through which we interact with government. It is critical that in the development of the sector, we are able to reach those who come from the poorest sections of our society. Our failure to ensure universal access to reliable and affordable ICT services to our people will inflict greater harm than what the Apartheid regime has done to our nation.
This morning as I launch the National ICT Forum, I am confident that we will work towards creating a vibrant knowledge economy and information society that will redress the terrible effects of the Apartheid regime for a prosperous South Africa.
I encourage all of you a participants in the National ICT Forum to dedicate yourselves to this task that will benefit ordinary South Africans, specifically those who come from previously disadvantaged communities.
I thank you.
SOURCE: SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL NEWS