Media release: Has the ICT Policy White Paper been subjected to a mandatory SEIA?

Government must fulfill the Cabinet decision to make socio economic impact assessments (SEIAs) compulsory before any policy or regulatory decisions are taken. It appears that the ICT Policy White Paper does not comply with this requirement, which prompted the call yesterday by the DA’s shadow telecommunications minister Marian Shinn that one of the proposals, Wireless Open Access Networks (WOAN), be scrapped. 

If no SEIA exists, it means that the policy is not evidence-based as required by the Presidency’s guidelines and that it should not be implemented until a SEIA is completed and published. The FMF has been leading the call for impact assessments since 2000. We are increasingly concerned by the failure to make SEIAs available to the public. Apparently over 117 have been done. In the unlikely event one has been done for the ICT Policy, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) must produce it.

SEIAs deal with the expected disadvantages versus the expected benefits of proposed legislation. Since October 2015 all new laws and policies must be preceded by a SEIA. A special SEIA unit has been created in the planning department to supervise and advise organs of state. SEIAs have to comply with detailed Presidency Guidelines .

The lack of a published SEIA for ICT policy is especially alarming when the ICT Policy White Paper took four years to complete and proposes far-reaching changes that will have profound implications for all South Africans and network operators. Although the stated intentions are good , experts and analysts have serious concerns about conclusions reached and how the policy would be implemented.

The FMF is currently conducting ICT policy research and analysis regarding the prospective impact on consumer mobile data and phone charges, and the implications for an efficient functioning market. More state intervention is not advisable in an economy already reeling under the burden of excessive red tape, regulation, taxation and irregular spending exposed by the Auditor-General. 

The five key ICT policy areas are: (1) a massively expanded government role, (2) fundamental interference with efficient wholesale markets, (3) creation of a nationalised wholesale monopoly, (4) anti-market spectrum allocation and (5) a government fund to replace capital now freely provided by private investors.

FMF executive director, Leon Louw, a leading expert on impact assessments and global best practice said, “SEIAs are not obviously a Constitutional requirement. However, according to Section 33, all administrative action must be fair and reasonable. It has been argued in an informal counsel opinion that this means that the Constitution requires something amounting to a SEIA – it would be unfair and unreasonable to adopt policies without proper consideration of expected disadvantages and benefits, constitutionality, factual evidence, feasibility and more.” 

Two SEIAs that have been done and released, are one for National Health Insurance policy and the other for financial sector (“Twin Peaks”) regulation. Neither justify implementation of the proposals. The conclusions reached in the Twin Peaks SEIA and the manner in which it was undertaken, clearly demonstrate that the proposed legislation should be scrapped. Is the same true of the ICT Policy SEIA, in the unlikely event there is one?


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