This week, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has called for clearer legal definitions of ‘personal data’ if it is to carry out its mandate of enforcing the contentious Data Protection Act (DPA). “Sometimes it’s good to know that we are not alone,” says Robert Sussman, joint CEO at the Integr8 Group. “We have also seen the European Council of Ministers fumble over their definitions of net neutrality and how the Internet should be governed to ensure fair and equitable access.”
For Sussman, these two international stories highlight the fact that the South African ICT ecosystem is not so different from any others in the world. The fundamental disconnect between political bureaucrats and the industry which provides ICT services is not peculiar to South Africa.
Lack of cohesion
“The recent local storm over the definition of broadband and how the Advertising Standards Authority has decided it should be described, has proved once again that what lies at the heart of South Africa’s delivery problem is the lack of a cohesive, unambiguous national ICT policy,” he adds.
“However, the problem goes deeper than the DoC’s inability to get its ducks in a row. At the moment, there is no clear ownership of ICT. There are a wealth of initiatives aimed at ‘bridging the digital divide’. Some rest within the Department of Communications, some with Trade and Industry, some even with the Department of Education and Science and Technology.
“What is urgently needed is for one entity to stand up and take ownership and therefore responsibility. This role should fall within the office of the Presidency. It should be ruthless and it should happen immediately and it should start with a thorough audit of all the ICT initiatives supported by government.”
Sussman believes that only once South Africa has a clear picture of all the projects, will it be able to prioritise, assign resources and, most importantly, define objectives and measurements of success.
“The result would be less obscurity, a significant reduction in tender irregularity and greater delivery. One of the main reasons why delivery fails is that the devil is in the detail. We need clear definitions of terms, clarity in our laws and certainty around who is responsible for enforcing them. And while it is comforting to know we are not the only country struggling with this, it does not excuse the perpetuation of a flawed system and the lack of political will to find a solution,” he concludes.