‘Knowl­edge-based econ­omy key to SADC in­te­gra­tion’

Observer on Saturday - - News -

For South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion to be re­alised, the re­gion will need to be trans­formed into an in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge-based econ­omy, SA Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ayanda Dlodlo said this week.

The min­is­ter was ad­dress­ing del­e­gates from 15 SADC coun­tries in­clud­ing Swazi­land who have been meet­ing in Dur­ban since Mon­day to dis­cuss the re­gion's ICT in­fra­struc­ture.

The meet­ing is be­ing at­tended by gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, im­ple­ment­ing agen­cies and ICT in­dus­try play­ers. It has, among oth­ers, dis­cussed the sta­tus of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the SADC ICT pol­icy, stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions, ICT in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, SADC re­gional postal ser­vices de­vel­op­ment and co­or­di­na­tion.

"An ac­ces­si­ble, af­ford­able and re­li­able telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions is es­sen­tial for us to ben­e­fit from the Fourth In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion which has the po­ten­tial to leapfrog the SADC re­gion eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially as it brings new op­por­tu­ni­ties to our cit­i­zens," Min­is­ter Dlodlo said.

Over the past few days, data and roam­ing costs within the re­gion have come un­der the spot­light with min­is­ters of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ICT from coun­tries such as Zam­bia, Malawi and Swazi­land call­ing for the scrap­ing of roam­ing charges within the SADC re­gion. An of­fi­cial from the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity of SA (ICASA) re­vealed this week that cell phone op­er­a­tors were charg­ing as high as E5 a minute for cross bor­der calls.

This week, Min­is­ter Dlodlo said pric­ing re­mained the key in­di­ca­tor of the com­pet­i­tive­ness of mar­kets.

"Yet in many in­stances, there is very lit­tle pric­ing trans­parency to al­low for any mean­ing­ful as­sess­ment by con­sumers or even the reg­u­la­tors of mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion prices. The af­ford­abil­ity of ICT ser­vices is also key in bring­ing more peo­ple into the in­for­ma­tion age."

Min­is­ter Dlodlo called on her SADC coun­ter­parts to act swiftly to fa­cil­i­tate the spread of broad­band ser­vices that are fast, re­li­able and af­ford­able. This would en­sure the in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety is truly global and in­clu­sive, and ben­e­fits the poor­est in so­ci­eties.

She added that de­spite the good progress the SADC re­gion has made in many ar­eas, com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral, peri-ur­ban and town­ship ar­eas, is still not where it should be.

"Un­for­tu­nately even to­day we live in a so­ci­ety where too many of our cit­i­zens are still de­nied ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and the life chang­ing ben­e­fits it brings. Of SADC's pop­u­la­tion of 300 mil­lion peo­ple, only 16.3 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is us­ing the in­ter­net com­pared to a pen­e­tra­tion of 47 per cent glob­ally," she said.

The suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of ecom­merce and e-gov­ern­ment re­quire that busi­ness and gov­ern­ment have ef­fi­cient tele­com links with con­sumers and cit­i­zens.

If the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion is ei­ther not con­nected, or can­not af­ford to use ser­vices, e-com­merce and egov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives will fal­ter, eco­nomic growth will be re­stricted, and SADC's in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety will be con­fined to an elite mi­nor­ity.

"Be­cause ser­vice out­puts feed into other in­dus­tries, economies with highly priced and in­ef­fi­cient ser­vice sec­tors will find their com­pet­i­tive­ness in ex­trac­tive and man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries af­fected as well.

"A key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tor for the ICT sec­tor is the rel­a­tive price struc­ture of ser­vices. Rel­a­tive prices af­fect the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the in­dus­try in ex­port mar­kets. High telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions prices have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity," said Min­is­ter Dlodlo.

As the meet­ing ended on Thurs­day, del­e­gates were ex­pected to pro­duce a strat­egy that will lay the foun­da­tion for the re­gion's plan to fa­cil­i­tate re­gional in­te­gra­tion through the use of ICTs, as well as de­fine a po­si­tion for the re­gion to par­tic­i­pate in the 4th In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion.

GOOD NEWS: SA Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ayanda Dlodlo.

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