Broadband Infraco, Sentech merger to proceed: minister

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Tuesday that government is pressing ahead with a plan to merge state-owned enterprises Broadband Infraco and Sentech to form a new infrastructure company.

The minister’s remarks, made at a media briefing in Pretoria, come almost 10 months after she announced on 19 December 2019 that the two companies would be merged to avoid duplication in state-led infrastructure development.

The new entity may be known as the State Digital Infrastructure Company.

“The business case has been finalised,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said at Tuesday’s briefing. The next step is cabinet approval and the necessary legislative amendments, which will have to be dealt with by parliament.

At the same time, the minister said a plan to restructure underserviced-area agency Usaasa into the Digital Development Fund is moving ahead. “The business case is about to be finalised and consultations with treasury are ongoing.”

Responsibility for the distribution of digital set-top boxes to indigent households, previously meant to be managed by Usaasa, will now be handled by Sentech, the minister said.

Sita shake-up

In addition, the State IT Agency, which has historically acted as a central IT procurement agency for government, is being repurposed as a “digital services agency” to drive digital transformation in government, she said. This will require amendments to the legislation that governs the agency.

A project management office has been created in the department of communications & digital technologies to ensure the overhaul of these entities proceeds smoothly. The chairs, CEOs, chief financial officers and some board members of these entities will form part of this PMO.

On the SABC, the minister said she “trusts that the SABC management and board will make sure that the SABC remains commercially viable and relevant” following a recent, multibillion-rand government bailout. “That’s all we can do. The SABC board will play their own part. As shareholder representative, ours (sic) is to provide daily support in the areas where they need support,” she said.

On broadcasting digital migration, Ndabeni-Abrahams recommitted government to completing the long-delayed project by no later than December 2021. This is despite the acting director-general of the department, Nomvuyiso Batyi, saying in an interview with TechCentral last month that the migration project will only be completed by 2022 at the earliest. — (c) 2020 NewsCentral Media