Telecel saga: Holistic approach needed

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The recent cancellation of Telecel Zimbabwe’s operating licence is an unfortunate development at a time the country is working hard to build investor confidence to help rebuild the comatose economy.

Hence, any move to kill the confidence-building programme being led by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and many progressive forces locally and elsewhere would be retrogressive and Zimbabwe could pay dearly as investors give the country a wide berth.

It is an established fact that political vultures have been circling around the country’s second largest mobile phone operator for some time now, but we believe that it is about time President Robert Mugabe warned them to stay away from interfering with private businesses.

This can be done if the President himself entertains any idea of resuscitating the economy during his time.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz)’s announcement to cancel Telecel’s operating licence for contravening Zimbabwe’s laws did not come as a surprise following last month’s Cabinet resolution to disband the mobile cellular network.

But the move was badly timed when the country is wooing investors by hosting the premier trade exposition, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).

Instead of the few foreign investors to focus on ZITF, they have had their attention diverted towards the bad publicity Zimbabwe is attracting due to the way the Telecel matter has been handled. It is mindboggling how government can throw over 1 000 employees onto the streets in an economy that has not created new jobs over decades. How about their families, vendors, service providers and those that have relied on Telecel for service provision among others?

It is unthinkable that Telecel can appeal to ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira when Potraz falls under his purview. Besides, it is Mandiwanzira who last month threatened to close Telecel for its alleged shenanigans.

Is it not unprecedented for Potraz to order Telecel to decommission its equipment and wind up operations within 60 days and over two million subscribers 30 days to migrate to other networks? It smacks of hypocrisy and appears the licence cancellation was aimed at arm-twisting mobile phone operators given Potraz had ordered Telecel and Econet to share their infrastructure with government-owned NetOne — the third largest mobile phone operator.

Could it be because Zesa-owned Powertel was recently licenced to operate the Code Division Multiple Access space in order to support the quadruple play revolution, namely fixed voice, video, data and cellular?

There is no doubt that a holistic approach to business issues is what is needed in this case. This should have entailed bringing the stakeholders together to break the impasse. To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war, as Winston Churchill once said. Now that Telecel has warned they would legally fight the cancellation means there won’t be a solution in the near future while the people suffer. Telecel has argued that it was paying up its licence fees in instalments.

But many would want Potraz to explain to the public at what point they stopped paying. Why was Telecel given preference in the first place when Econet paid its $137,5 million fee?

Why did government not enlist the services of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to garnish Telecel accounts to get the licence fees? The burden of proof rests on Potraz to show that the cancellation of the licence was not political given events of the past year and that its drastic measure was not a rubber stamp of last month’s Cabinet resolution to close Telecel.

We believe as many do that Telecel played its part in offering an alternative and what consumers detest is to see that alternative being taken away. The way this whole matter was handled is unfair and unwarranted given Telecel had made efforts to meet its obligations. Such measures put government in bad standing on the international stage resulting in investors shunning the country. This move must be condemned in the strongest terms as it is damaging to the country.