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LCA boss speaks out

by Lesotho Times
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“Our mission is to contribute to meaningful universal connectivity by making communications infrastructure accessible; broadband affordable; narrowing the digital divide and creating a safe cyberspace for all”

THE Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) last month appointed Nizam Goolam as the substantive Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Mr Goolam had been the authority’s Acting CEO since June 2021. The Lesotho Times (LT) caught up with Mr Goolam to hear his plans for the regulatory agency of the country’s communication sector.

LT: Could you please take us through the mandate of Lesotho Communications Authority of which you are now at the helm on a fulltime basis.

Mr Goolam: The mandate of the LCA, as prescribed in the Communications Act 2012, basically is to

regulate the telecommunications sector. It was established in June 2000 and its mandate entails granting licences to operators, promoting fair competition, approving tariffs, managing the radio frequency spectrum, empowering and protecting consumers, type-approving terminal equipment and other related responsibilities.

Our mission is to contribute to meaningful universal connectivity by making communications infrastructure accessible, broadband affordable, narrowing the digital divide and creating a safe cyberspace for all.

LT: You have been with the LCA for quite a while, even before being elevated to its helm. What are you hoping to do to improve the services of the LCA?

Mr Goolam: Adaptation is the only way to survive in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment (VUCA). Our ability to keep pace with VUCA must be accelerated as we abandon outdated and traditional operating approaches. Our business is constantly changing because of the rapid growth of internet and telecommunications services, which forces us to adopt new ways of doing business.

A strategic planning process for LCA is guided by the LCA Strategic Management Framework (LCA-SMF), which articulates the guiding principles underpinning the strategic management process necessary to transform LCA into a sustainable and efficient regulator through an integrated strategic architecture.

LT: You mentioned that the LCA has developed a three-year  strategic plan 2023/2026. Would you kindly take us through this action-plan?

Mr Goolam: Throughout our strategy, we strive for a balance between regulatory certainty, innovation, competition, and consumer protection. We also have put a lot of effort into strategies that shall ensure safety, security, and confidence in the information and communication technologies (ICT) environment. Our strategy remains adaptable to the changing technological market, and social conditions., our approach shall be flexible, adaptable, and responsive. For an agile regulatory system to be successful, it must combine collaboration, adaptability, transparency, and outcomes-driven decision-making. Our adoption of these values is necessary in order to drive this strategy.

Our role as a regulator is to embrace convergence in ICT and respond in ways that maximise the benefits while mitigating the risks. As convergence occurs in countries across the spectrum of economic development, we are challenging traditional legal, policy, and regulatory frameworks. If there is anything we took from the Covid-19 pandemic, is the harsh reality that technology has eroded the boundaries between previously separate ICT services, networks, and business practices..

Collaboration has become an essential element of our culture because of this context. Further, we recognise that successful collaboration relies on transparency and communication. It is important for us to collaborate deliberately in order to avoid failing to realise the ultimate outcomes of our strategy. Constant feedback will be an integral part of our collaborative approach, since communication and feedback go hand-in-hand with transparency.

To respond to unavoidable changes in the environment, digital transformation requires changing the environment’s cues and developing new cues retroactively. In our pursuit, to promote the interests of consumers of communication services, as the regulator, we have purposefully decided to make innovation our fundamental cultural pillar to achieve our strategic goals.

We remain aware that digital transformation will help industries within and across the ICT sector to generate efficiencies and improve consumer experiences. We believe that innovation will allow our licensees to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market.. In conclusion, let me sum up all these points by pointing that through the three strategic plan period, the Authority’s cultural values will be premised on i-CAT, which is an acronym for Innovation, Collaboration, Adaptability and Transparency.

We want to ensure that there are regulatory instruments leading to a robust  digital transformation, adequate stakeholder inclusiveness, transformed postal sector, professional broadcasting sector and high broadband uptake.

In the three years, we plan to foster consumer-education and awareness as we have realised the need for consumers to know their rights, including the safe usage of the internet and understanding of issues around cybersecurity and the imminent danger it poses. We also intend to put a lot of effort on child online protection.

LT: The media outlets we have in the country are mostly radio stations and newspapers. Quite often, people have been complaining that these outlets are biased, especially in politics. What role does the LCA play in such a situation, and what is expected from those media outlets?

Mr Goolam: First, at minimum, we expect that those who are in that industry are professionals. They are aware of their duties, their guiding principles and in particular the broadcasting code.

We have had challenges in the past with the issues you mentioned, especially on unbalanced reports. In the last 20 years or so, we have mostly been relying on legal instruments for compliance and enforcement. But the success was limited, and we had a discussion with the broadcasters to look at the problem and how it could be addressed. What we identified was that the issue of lack of capacity was a major one. So that is why we took a different direction altogether to say let’s work together towards professionalising our media.

We then introduced  basic training workshops where we engaged industry leaders to facilitate and since April this year, we have now moved to a more formal education arrangement and have partnered with Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) to  capacitate all the broadcasters. We are also looking at how we can capacitate the station managers because we understand that even if the presenters are knowledgeable about what has to happen, if the management is not on the same wavelength or maybe do not share a common understanding, we may still have problems.

LT: On that note, the big challenge we are facing in the media is that we do not have enough resources or we mostly rely on the private sector for advertisements to survive. So as a result, sometimes these advertisers capture the media. That is to say, if you are my primary advertiser, I cannot write anything negative about you. Is there any way that the LCA can protect the media from being captured?

Mr Goolam: It is easy to be captured by somebody because he or she advertises with you. But by and large, it is putting your eggs in one basket. If that person no longer becomes your advertiser, then you lose your one source of income. The best way is always to stay professional. Because when you are professional, you are sure to attract the audience. The larger the audience, the more advertisers one can attract.

LT: We also have social media, which is currently the mostly followed media in the country. And we have seen that most of the posts on social media are all about breaking stories, even without fact-checking, thus misinforming the nation. What impact does that have in the country? And how can the LCA help with that issue?

Mr Goolam: I think we have to start from saying that the internet was not designed for regulation.

But as times moved on, it became an important source of information. So, what we need to do at LCA is to look at our legal frameworks and align them with current practices, but of course, without compromising the freedoms of speech.

And another thing that we will be doing is to look at consumer-experience. We believe that through consumer-education, that will help the community to be able to understand and make proper judgment of what they read. This we can achieve through awareness campaigns.

We are going to extend those awareness campaigns beyond just understanding issues on the internet, consumer rights and obligations. We are also going to engage on children’s rights online and how they can be protected..

We also understand that the legal frameworks are really some of the things that the government will have to review. But while we are still working on those, we can do a lot by making people aware of what to do and what not to do, and how to protect their own children.

Another issue that we will also be dealing with is that of cybersecurity. Yes, there is still a bill that is yet to be enacted into law. But while the process is going on, we will be educating people about cybersecurity. It is all about safety, security, and trust of the cyber space..

LT: Staying with the cyber-security bill, there has been an outcry from the media that it is going to suppress freedom of speech, which basically makes the law unconstitutional. So what role is the LCA playing in ensuring that the law does not infringe on people’s rights while also protecting the cyber space?

Mr Goolam: I think what we should appreciate is that such laws are the responsibility of the government. And we expect that the government will do what is necessary to ensure that it addresses all concerns before the bill can be passed.

As LCA, we are always available to support the government through our parent Ministry, the Ministry of Information, Communication, Science, Technology and Innovation. We are always available to  assist with our inhouse expertise and consultations with other countries and institutions and anything else that the Government may require to ensure the bill is passed..

LT: Did the LCA play any role in the composition of that bill as one of the stakeholders? If you did, had you found out from other countries how such a law was  protecting the cyber space of those countries?

Mr Goolam: Well, what we did was engage all stakeholders, even the international partners were also present. We know that they have such laws in their countries as well. When we bring any law home, we still have to customise it and adapt it to the local environment. I believe that is the stage where we are now.

We may face certain challenges, which other countries may not. So, it is a question of domesticating it to make sure that it fits well in our cultural norms and beliefs.

LT: The issue of registering cellphone SIM cards…How effective has it been since it was introduced last year? And again, why was it introduced?

Mr Goolam: I will take it a bit outside what you are saying. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, where it is basically about digital transformation. We can see, especially in the financial sector, that a lot of financial transactions are now happening online or on the mobile phone.

In this digital era, more people are using mobile communication as means to electronically transfer monies and the financial sector also relies on the telecommunications platform as a medium for doing their business. However, the digital platform is overwhelmed with a lot of fraudulent activities, hence the need to register SIM cards so that perpetrators can easily be traced. It is important to protect the people. It was a concern for us all to ensure the security of all financial transactions. We therefore found it fit to register SIM cards.

Registering your mobile SIM card does not mean that information will be used for surveillance.

Surveillance is when you are monitoring the movements of people from point A to point B or whatever. The networks are designed to provide services, not to track people.

LT: We currently have two telecommunications companies, being Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho. Does the LCA impose tariffs which the two companies charge, or do they apply to the LCA to increase the charges?

Mr Goolam: Well, they apply. Our legal framework says that they apply for the tariffs. It has been more than 10 years since the telecommunications tariffs were increased and believe me, they have been applying but the LCA has declined their requests.

LT: We also recall that the LCA opened doors for more telecommunications companies to operate in Lesotho. How many such companies can this country accommodate before we have problems such as congestion of networks?

Mr Goolam: We have a smaller population, but it would be wise to have more players in the telecommunications space to make it a competitive environment. It depends on the level of opportunity investors see in Lesotho. As LCA, we are still hopeful that another service provider will come seek a licence from us.

LT: Most Basotho residing along the country’s border with South Africa use South African networks. Does the LCA have any powers to regulate this?

Mr Goolam: We have an agreement with our South African counterpart to try and minimise spillage.

 

 

END

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