ICT Charter -- so many issues, so little time

As the ICT Charter Indaba took place at Vodaworld, Midrand, on Friday, a feeling of uncertainty and tension dominated the conference room, as several areas of disagreement surfaced, following the release of the third draft last Monday.

With only ten days left before the final cut-off date for submissions, it seems as if the Working Group will have to extend the deadline if it is to resolve the remaining major issues.

"There are a lot of issues that are not clarified in the third draft, and, given the very short, almost unrealistic deadlines, one has to question how much discussion can take place in the 10 days left before the deadline for submissions closes," says Microsoft SA MD, Gordon Frazer.

Amongst the major issues that need to be resolved are the question of multinational equity ownership, enterprise development, procurement and corporate social investment (CSI).

With most multinationals still opposing the policy of non-exclusion to equity ownership as an empowerment indicator, many black companies are adamant that there can be no equivalents for empowerment.

In dealing with this matter, chairman of the Charter Working Group, Dali Mpofu, presented a letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been approached by several multinationals, including Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., to mediate between themselves and the Working Group.

According to executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Luanne Grant, the Chamber is expected to meet with the multinationals this week to discuss the equity issue.

On the other hand, many black-owned companies have put forward a request to be exempted from CSI. Multinationals, however, feel that this area should have a higher rating.

While black companies say many of them might struggle to meet the minimum requirement, the multinationals say that the weighting of three given to CSI could be increased in order to meet most of the goals of the Charter.

On the issue of enterprise development and procurement, a majority of organizations have called for more emphasis to be placed on enterprise development, which was given a weighting of 22 in the third draft, rather than procurement, which received a weighting of 7.

It was indicated by Mthunzi Mdwaba, on behalf of the BITF, that there was a misconception that enterprise development and procurement were the same thing, whereas the truth was different.

He says: "Enterprise development is about issues relating to the capacity of businesses - resourcing them both from a skills and financing point of view to ensure success and sustainability, assisting them with business processes and similarly oriented activities.

Preferential Procurement, on the other hand, as critical as it is to the success of BEE, is about ensuring that black and empowered businesses obtain procured business and relevant recommendations.

It is therefore important that we endorse enterprise development to increase the independence of HDIs in the industry."

Multinationals have called for a pragmatic approach and solution to many of the issues, and Mpofu has indicated that the Charter Working Group will carry on the discussions in a bid to come up with a suitable final draft.