MASERU – Following two years of holding the fort as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), Nizam Goolam has recently been appointed as a substantive CEO. He boasts over 30 years’ experience in the telecommunications field, Goolam brings a wealth of experience to this role of steering the ship of the regulator.

Born and bred at ‘Mate in Leribe district, Goolam is an engineer by profession having studied Bachelor of Science (BSc) with majors in Physics and Maths at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and proceeded to School of Engineering at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Freshly graduated from the university, he cut teeth in the telecoms at the then Lesotho Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) until when it was privatized, when it amalgamated to be Telecom Lesotho and was merged with Econet, he then moved to join LCA. He has risen through the ranks at LCA receiving an upward mobility until recently being at the helm of the LCA. Some of his pastime activities include reading and DIY projects.

Thoboloko Ntšonyane sits down with him to find out what his plans are for the LCA. In this wide-ranging interview, he lays out his ambitions and the direction he wants to take this regulatory institution to.                                                                                                                                                            Below are the excerpts of the interview.

You have recently been appointed as a substantive CEO, tell us what your plans are and what you would want to achieve during your tenure in this position?

Well, what I will be talking about basically is what is in the LCA’s Strategic Plan, which started this financial year. The main issues within it which is what I intend to achieve is ensuring that we have a trustworthy digital infrastructure. Basically, we are talking about the issues of cybersecurity, and we are also looking at transforming the regulatory [system] to be more collaborative so that it can best respond to the demands of the communications sector so that it also involves inclusive decision-making cycles. And, also the coordination in the digital landscape because we have now realized that with the convergence and 4th industrial revolution many of the services and the applications are now riding on the communications infrastructure so we need to have a clear understanding of what other sectors are looking at in terms of enhancing their service delivery and to ensure that we have the networks that are ready to support their new ways of doing business and delivering services.

The other will be issues relating to consumer protection and education. We will be embarking on programs on consumer education about their rights on usage on communication services and also education on child and youth protection online. We are aware that when everything moves to cyberspace there are new threats coming in and we need a community that is aware of those threats and understands how to deal with them.

We will also be engaging in education programs to try and sensitize and maybe impart some skills. Basically, we are talking about the digital skills, how to use the web space, how to use the internet and other things, the dos and don’ts so that we have a community that is able to consume online services effectively and safely.

We have two major service providers in the country, is that a healthy competition? Can we see in the near future another company coming in?

When you look at the Communications Act the issue of competition is part of the mandate of LCA. Yes, we would like to see more players, and our legal frameworks from the Communications Act, 2012 and subsidiary legislations, we have made provision for new entrants, however this is an investment that will come from the private sector to invest in the communication sector, and we have prepared the playing field so that they can enter.

We are hoping that there will be those that are interested of course taking into account the population size of 2 million or so and the difficult terrain that we have but we are in conversation with other potential investors to see whether maybe they can see that opportunity of investing in Lesotho.

Can you tell us who those potential investors are and where they are from?

Well, it’s both local and foreign, while I would not disclose further details because you know when you are in conversation with people who are trying to understand what the regulatory framework entails. At this point it is too early to say whether we will have anybody coming in or not. But, let us say, it may not necessarily be looking at the big licenses like the converged licenses like Vodacom Lesotho and Econet  have, there are other licenses that Basotho can also have such as providing  ISPs (Internet Service Providers) services, you may realize that we have very few ISPs in Lesotho and we would like to see more of those especially  the districts as everything seems to be here in Maseru and that’s an opportunity for the local entrepreneurs to venture into that and be ISP service providers.

One of the challenges people complain about is that of expensive data, what is LCA doing to ensure that there is an element of inclusivity and that everybody participates in the cyberspace and the digital economy?

One of the functions of the LCA is to regulate the tariffs. So, the issue of whether data [are] expensive or not, is something that one can say compare Lesotho the closest is with SADC, and maybe compare with the [rest of] Africa and you will realize that when you compare with those you will realize that data [are] more affordable in Lesotho than even across the river.  The issue of data being expensive is something that one would have to understand the basis for saying it is expensive.

But Basotho are complaining about the prices they pay for data.

I appreciate that people will say something is expensive. The model we are applying is cost-based model, we say what is the cost of delivering the service, because at the end of the day you can’t operate below cost but we compare our cost with other countries and if we were above many countries we would say yes maybe we need to revisit, look at what is the cost of doing the business is in Lesotho. When you compare with other countries, we have very affordable data. Yes, the challenge may be that our economy is such that maybe the level of affordability by individuals may be a challenge.

We have recently learned that the government servers have been attacked and we are not sure whether it is malware or what at this stage as investigations are ongoing. The Judiciary recently released a statement saying the delivery of justice has been interfered with as they cannot access the judgments and some need to be re-written as they have disappeared. What is LCA doing to build a robust and resilient ICT infrastructure to guard against anomalies such as this one?

We are talking cybersecurity here, and when you look inside the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill, the national cybersecurity incident response team is contained in there for government to build that which will deal with cyber threats nationally and at this point because it is still a bill, maybe the government will have to work harder to making sure that the bill gets enacted into law so we can have that established. But in the meantime, there are lots of efforts being taken to find remedies to the cyber threats while we are still enacting that bill.

Could you bring us to speed on what those efforts are being carried out?

 The whole issue of cybersecurity you have to deal with it in-house first, maybe as an individual, or as an organization and then it flows from there to sectors and to the national level. Right now, we are in the process of capacity building because you need highly specialized skills to deal with those, we are already embarking on those and we are already engaging our foreign partners to work on how we can deal with such threats. So, it is a work in progress. We are not working in silos; we are collaborating with all other stakeholders to ensure that we all move together.

Some of the provisions of the cybersecurity legislations have element of spying in people’s private lives, you will recall for instance, the Sim-card Registration law requires people to give out their identity details and that could be used to infringe on the privacy of the people and consequently on their human rights to enjoying privacy.

The concept of providing details is not new, for all other services whether you want to connect electricity, water, opening a bank account and even in the driver’s license those details are requested and there is nothing different from the Sim-card Registration. We are just saying provide your identification that is how you should look at it. We need to understand that we are mobbing into the digital economy and what you used to do with your physical bank card you are now doing with your cell phone and it means that your cellphone is now becoming your identity and your means of transacting. So, in order to protect those users, even their service providers, they do ask for your phone numbers. It’s not strange, it’s what happens, so we need to give them assurance that the number that you are given is the correct number.

 We understand that when you move finances on digital platforms, financial crimes will move in that direction and we also have to assist those sectors in ensuring that when they deal with their clients for example, if their client says for example I live at Maseru West, I have a house, normally they will say give us the proof which is the lease, and in this case if you say my phone number is this where I can transact, they need to say yes this is the right person which we can allow. Potentially if people are unknown you may have imposters, who will come and say I am so and so, and when that person is actually a different one, and if the service provider is unaware of that they may somehow end up giving them access to the person who is not supposed to be given access.

So, it’s basically to ensure that the consumers are safe. It is for the safety of the consumers and the issue of spying on people is not the business of the communications to determine the whereabouts of the people or what the people are doing, it’s for other agencies that is why they don’t necessarily keep your conversations because it is outside what they are expected to do. Theirs is to make sure that they give you service, to transact whatever you want to transact, not necessarily to spy on you.

There is also another concern that such a law could be invoked to muzzle those who are critical against the government, especially across social media platforms.

Well I think here we are not talking about the Sim Registration; we are talking about something else because it just needs the face against the number. I have heard those arguments were centered on the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill.

But there was a proposed law that didn’t go through that proposed that a person with 100 followers on social media be registered, the question was around that as fears were that it was used to target those who are critical against the government.

I remember that bill, but when you are coming up with the rules or the regulations, they have to go through the public consultations and it is the outcome of the public consultations that will inform whether to go forward or not, but from the public consultations it became clear that there was no point in pursuing that further.

Back to the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill, the media fraternity has reservations on certain provisions it proposes such as ambiguity, hefty charges if found guilty, some sections require that a journalist should produce their source and this is against the reporters’ privilege. What is your view?

The best person to answer it is the Ministry, because anything above the rules whether you are talking about the regulations at the end of the day they have to emanate from the Ministry.

My take is that if there are reservations, it is only proper to engage the Ministry, to iron out those concerns and see how an amicable solution can be found because at the end of the day, the regulations are meant to protect the citizens of the country holistically. Yes, if certain people within the community feel that maybe they would overstep their privacy and so on, it is only proper that they take it up with the Ministry to see how those concerns can be included and factored into the overall regulation.

But the issue of penalties being light or heavy or what, it’s neither here nor there because when one listens to the radios or reads on the papers, there is a public concern that bail is M500.00, it’s very cheap, people commit crime and they know that while they are on the way to the court people put together coins to bail them out. If it’s affordable you can say it’s cheap, but if the penalties are hefty people are saying the penalties are not affordable, let’s understand what those are for, the whole idea is don’t engage in crime.

I think what one needs to understand is the impact of cybercrime. We said earlier in our conversation that the government systems were attacked and the government was not able to deliver the services. What is the cost of that to the whole community when nobody can get the government services? What you need is a deterrence that such do not happen, it can happen to the bank and if it happens to the bank you may wake up in the morning and find that all of us have zero balances, and I am sure whoever is affected will not be happy that the law is lenient on those. So, basically it is not about the penalties, it is about showing the gravity of such crimes and the impact they can have to the different sectors or even the government as a whole so we need to understand the seriousness of it. Because basically, when you have attacked the government infrastructure, you have taken control of it, isn’t it, because the government will no longer be able to function?

I think we need to understand the impact of it, and appreciate the impact of it to say what exactly will be the consequences should this happen and we have experienced it and we know the consequences are very bad because when it happens even the suppliers who were supposed to have been paid by the government could not be paid. So, you see it is affecting everybody, even people who were looking for services could not get the services. Sometimes when we look at these issues, we need to look at them holistically with an open mind and say what is the possible impact on the livelihoods of Basotho should this happen.

Perhaps as a step towards implementing the Broadcasting Code requirements, we recently saw LCA taking the radio journalists and editors to school, one would ask as a regulator why did you decide to do that and what financial impact does that have on you?

I think for many years, there were complaints about the local radio stations on what they were saying, there have always been rules and conditions and prescriptions of enforcement that should be done should contraventions be made, but with those in place, our success was not so much. We [then] sat in a roundtable with the broadcasters, and say here is the problem, let’s define the problem and find the solution to it and what we found was that yes there are challenges, the capacity [constraints] of those who are behind the microphone and do we continue to penalize, penalize… we needed to solve the problem and solving the problem means capacitating those people so that they better understand the ethics of journalism and all that is related to the media.

That was the motivation behind, we have to understand that we are not 20 years ago, even the mindset have changed, even the people have changed so we know that these days people who are more informed make better decisions than when they did not have the information and that was the motivation towards capacitating them.

You also asked about the financial impact, yes it has hit us very hard, our mandate is to regulate the communication sector and the licensing fees we collect are expected to do exactly that. We had to defer some of the programs that we had already planned to prioritize because when we look at its level of importance, it was more important and more urgent.

There is a digital divide between the underserved communities and those who are better off, what is LCA doing to bridge that gap and ensure digital inclusion?

The initial steps that we have taken was to go back to the tariffs of which many countries have benchmarked  to say can’t we have a package for every pocket, that’s when you started to see those packages that start from around M3.00. They were not just coincidental, they were well thought through to say there are those people who can afford that much, secondly we have the students whom we say some may be learning from home, and they have to submit their work, they would have to travel and do all sorts of things, how can we make it more affordable that they can be able to submit those at the comfort of their homes. So, that’s where we started to say, let’s look at the package for everybody.

When your tour of duty in this institution has come to an end, what would you like to be remembered by, what legacy do you want to leave?

Primarily two things: one is a safer cyberspace for Lesotho and empowered consumers who know their rights, who know how to manage themselves in the cyberspace.