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Opinion: Importance of union of minds

The level of criticism for failure to get things done in this country is well documented. Perhaps it is time we now start looking for solutions to the problems we face. Incessant criticism does not help. Solutions to our problems is what we now need. The Jozini saga, the problems in the MTN-SPTC matters, are some of the issues where solutions are there to take this country forward. All we need to do is identify these solutions and implement them.

One has learnt in life that conflicts are engendered by lack of communication (i.e. depraved information transfer). Whether in the homestead, clan, community or the nation, an environment where intellectual and emotional discourse is absent, misunderstanding breeds cancerously until a state of disagreement becomes the norm even when there is nothing at issue.

Pic of a radio mastThis seems to be the case in the on-going lack of operational rapport between the two local giant providers of information transfer facilities. It extends to the Jozini saga. There is an unfortunate culture that has developed in the country: the yearning desire to find fault with someone and not to contribute a solution by identifying the problem first.

Secondly so much greed has pervaded society that most seem to care more for what there is in it for them in any situation rather than what the nation will gain from one’s contribution to a solution. The Jozini debacle has become one of the many that have gone beyond the comprehension of many of us mortals.

Let me glean and speculate from what the news media are able to convey to the populace.

Were the partners at the same wavelength aborigine? Seemingly the original contracts were drawn and signed without a union of minds on the vision, mission, operation, deliverables, and benefits the country (the populace) will derive from the projects.

The sub-leasing is apparently the bone of contention from which the bulk of the profits will be derived. Having realised that one sub-lease pays for almost three years of the agreed leasehold payments; the 25 or 99yr lease agreement gives the original lesser virtually free use of the land. This is, of course, not the original intention of the agreement. If this understanding has some semblance of, or nearest to, the truth, there was no union of minds in the first place. Our leadership today should understand a contract should only subsist when there is a union of minds.

In this case, the contractors did not sing the song from the same hymn book!

The word contract is derived from the Latin word contraho, contrahere, contraxi, contractum esse (I am pulling, to pull, I pulled, to be pulled together). A tug of war in sports is an event in which the participants pull together; the difference is that not all are pulling in the same direction. Their pull is at war; therefore, there is no union of minds without a contracting agreement.

A contract agreement on the other hand implies/encompasses/constitutes a union of minds, the lack of which deems the contract skewed and open to renegotiation, in pursuit of a level playing field for the benefit of all. There is so much we can achieve when we work in unity for the same purpose.

In the Jozini case, our leadership and the partners should acknowledge that only those who work make mistakes and it is magnanimous to make corrections when and where the need arises. The solution cannot be found in a blame game, but in sitting at a round table where the problem to be solved is at the centre, and viewed without not personal interests. Neither the Jozini group alone nor the Government team will come up with the final solution. There are 360 degree angles of views around every problem. The willingness to solve it can only succeed if the approach is collateral and with the same united purpose.

Those who grovel should not be engaged, as William Magongo (iNgongoni) once said, ‘they wake up when glasses smash in toast or the whirr of eMalangeni is audible’.

There is another problem the country has been trying to solve for a decade now: the MTN and SPTC provisioning of mobile and fixed services in an enabling environment that promotes seamless national network connectivity. Most of the solution attempts have missed the identification of the problem. The attempts have, in many cases, been good but they did not address the problem. Consequently, they generated more noise while the problem grew with the technological evolution and service demand diversities of the customers. As the customers become more sophisticated their demands change from the mundane voice message information transfer to diverse multi-media services.

Technology adequately responded by integrating the information transfer facilities using digital techniques, to provide high quality delivery through advanced modulation and noise reduction techniques, thus enhancing high signal fidelity. As technology advanced, it became physically possible for electronics to process higher frequencies in the spectrum and thus more and more signal processes became radio based. Even though the frequency spectrum may be regarded as limitless, there are however still limitations in the physical electronic processing capacity, albeit more of it is now available for the services demanded by the customer base.

Hence the SADC Frequency Plan is now up to 100 GHz.

At the ITU African Telecommunications Development Conference (ATDC 90), the fraternity, realising the economic potential this field had recommended to the membership the separation of policy administration from service provisioning operations by formulating regulatory regimes that will facilitate competition for quality, diverse and affordable services to the customer.

In 1998, the SADC region produced the Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology (TCM). It set out to urge members to establish autonomous/ independent operational entities that will meet the obligations of service delivery without subventions from the consolidated funds of governments. This would enable the Governments to focus on the social prerogatives of health, food security, education and infrastructure. Any subvention to a telecommunication entity would demonstrate serious flaws in its operations.

The SADC regional membership responded to the Protocol with gusto. Most of the countries, within the first three years, took no more than six months to actually establish transparent policies, effective legal frameworks to operationalise the policies and facilitative regulatory regimes for monitoring provision of costefficient and affordable communication services.

Swaziland, with all the other SADC members, had signed this TCM Protocol in 1998. Unfortunately, she is the only member which has had difficulty in implementing its elemental provisions. What are the difficulties? SADC/SATCC has tried to help, even without establishing what the actual problem has been. Until we identify the problem, it serves no one to blame anyone! The Government has taken the first positive and most important step in establishing the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT). What has the fraternity done?

Pic of Nine telecomunications satellite dishes on a farm

The Ministry has hitherto done a sterling job in trying to normalise the operations of the communications industry notwithstanding the fact that they have not been able to acquire sufficient and appropriate capacity for the task at hand. The Directorate of Communications has the responsibility to drive the transformation process and to represent Swaziland in international fora. How can we capacitate our Ministry? This is a challenge to the communications fraternity!

Unfortunately, it is one who is ill that goes to the doctor and not vice versa. The Directorate for Information should concern itself with content, a task that is difficult to effectuate without infringing on constitutional liberties in the access and use of information. At the same time, Government has the responsibility to protect society from itself to maintain social stability. It is a wriggle that requires collective addressing. Relating specifically to the SPTC MTN saga, I dare re-hazard a guess, like a scratched CD: the problem is the absence of a transparent policy, effective legal framework, facilitative (not obstructive) regulatory regime and the establishment of an autonomous/independent regulator.

The apparent lack of appreciation of the importance of speedy and reliable information transfer, in the information age, to socio-economic development is a glaring weakness. Without a dependable information network, no self-respecting investor will come. We shall always attract harvesters, with their corrupting culture! Let me repeat myself, the SPTC Fixed Zone Mobile Project (SFZMP) is excellent in a level playing field, policy-wise. The skewed status quo tarnishes the image of the country as an investment destination. It gives the erroneous impression to fertile minds that the nebulous environment is maintained for a surreptitious agenda to lace pockets of faceless people. Otherwise, what explanation can be given to that Swaziland is the only SADC country that has no independent Regulator of the Communications industry?

An operationally uncomplicated entity like electricity already has a regulator, even though it operates as a monopoly. One wonders what the regulator’s functional significance is! The recent outburst on the re-launch of the SFZMP, against Government’s suspension of the project, has sent wrong signals to the outside world. The rebuttal from the Ministry showed that unclear signals that found themselves open to multiple interpretations were given.

In this high return-on-investment industry such occurrences are dangerous and affect all investments because telecommunications are the nervous system of all commercial activities today. Either the country wants SPTC to be resuscitated or left in the commercial ICU for an unknown reason and period, or the Ministry should visibly work harder to facilitate its true turnaround.

MTN’s gripe is simple to understand: SPTC should not be a criminal and executioner; she should not be allowed to be forcibly married to MTN and cry rape; she should not be part of MTN’s plans and continue to have the power to derail them. No one should ever think SPTC enjoys this state of affairs. It detracts her from the focus of providing affordable service.

She has to look over her shoulders all the time because of this added burden of regulating. She has to employ more qualified personnel to do a job that could be done by a few. It is not her responsibility to allocate a frequency spectrum, which is a national asset, when she is also its consumer. It is impossible for her to be impartial in this function or to engage in operational cost containment!

SPTC has her own problems derived from historical faux pas! It is unfortunate that these views end up being water on a duck’s back. Not even the local fraternity critiques, concurs or rejects them. The problem lies in the new culture of looking for someone to blame instead of proposing solutions.

Unfortunately, we have only one Swaziland; it is our responsibility to be part of all changes, the only permanent occurrence. Information and knowledge have a tendency of petrifying when they are not used!

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