Monday, March 31, 2008

South Africa - undersea cables

Govt chooses its cable

Consensus has been reached between the departments of communications and public enterprises on which undersea telecommunications cable government will invest in.

Communications director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole and public enterprises director-general Portia Molefe met last week under the “mediation” of Joel Netshitenzhe, head of policy co-ordination and advisory services in the presidency.

On Friday, Shope-Mafole revealed this meeting had resulted in a resolution on which cable government would back.

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“We have agreed to propose to Cabinet that Nepad's Uhurunet and the African West Coast Cable be incorporated into one cable – Uhurunet – but as separate entities. This agreement still needs to be presented to Cabinet, but once that is done, we think it will be a happy ending for all of us,” she said.

Cable envy

Government's investment in an undersea cable has been the subject of much tension between the two departments and National Treasury.

Earlier this month, the Department of Public Enterprises revealed to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises that treasury had declined R1.4 billion of its Infraco budget request. These funds were primarily required for investing in and construction of a state-initiated undersea cable.

At the time, National Treasury said it had declined the funding due to Infraco‘s private investor pulling out. However, an official added that government was interested in funding only a single cable initiative and hoped public enterprises would come to an agreement with the Department of Communications (DOC).

The DOC's support of the Uhurunet cable has also come under fire. During a presentation to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications, DA communications spokesperson Dene Smuts accused the department of publishing landing guidelines that supported cronyism.

“Those guidelines are only obsessed with shareholding and that's crazy… This smacks of crony capitalism… Making a lot of money for people under the Nepad [Kigali] Protocol,” she said.

Back on track

Shope-Mafole says the new agreement between the departments brings government back to focusing on increasing the availability of international bandwidth and lowering the cost.

“After our initial discussions with Cabinet, we were focusing on the East Coast cable – which became Uhurunet. We invited the Department of Public Enterprises to our meetings, but they chose not to join. They then went and looked at their own cable,” she comments.

However, this situation had led to potential private investors in the cables questioning which cable would be better to invest in.

“These companies told us that it makes more sense if there is just one cable. We took this to our principal, the president, and suggested a meeting take place. Now we can focus on moving on this initiative,” she says.

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