EcoCash court bid hits brickwall

The High Court has dismissed Econet Zimbabwe’s mobile money platform, EcoCash’s application which sought to interdict the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) from suspending its mobile money agents.

BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE

In his ruling, High Court judge Justice Webster Chinamora said EcoCash could not interdict a lawful act, dismissing the case with costs.

“The fact of the matter is that EcoCash owns the platform, while the agents enjoy the right of use of the platform as long as the applicant receives its fee per transaction,” Justice Chinamora said.

“While the applicant might feel passionately about the financial strain occasioned by the directive, it’s not the kind of interest that can found locus standi for the applicant at law.”

The judge added: “The question that arises is: if the agents are independent contractors in their own right, on what basis does the applicant have standing to litigate on their behalf? I see no lawful reason for EcoCash to bring the present action to vindicate what essentially are rights which are inherent in an independent contractor who has not even asserted his/her/its loss, actual or potential, before this court.”

On May 4, the RBZ gave a directive to EcoCash to freeze the agent lines making transactions of over $100 000 or more per month.

But EcoCash argued through its lawyer Ntokozo Siziba that: “The respondent placed a condition that those agents who wanted to continue with the business of transacting must reapply and application will be subject to confirmation by the respondent.

“The provisions of legal sections that the RBZ placed reliance on do not give respondent power to suspend agent lines from participating in the agent system. No crime has been committed by agent line holders and considered together with all relevant facts; the directive is illegal and irrational.”

EcoCash said the RBZ directive exempted banks; bureaux de change, listed companies, international organisations and government agencies, but affected large companies including Transverve, Zuva, Total, N Richards, Metropeech and Engen. EcoCash said the disruption had extended to its entire customer base.

“EcoCash has 11 million customers in a country where less than half the population have bank accounts,” Siziba said.

“The directive severely prejudices a majority of the population, EcoCash and its affected agents. To the extent that the directive is a dragnet that penalises the innocent agents and their customers in the hope of catching some unknown and unspecified offenders who have committed some unspecified crimes, it is irrational,” she said.

The firm also argued that the directive was grossly unfair as it had taken them nine years to build the agent network, and highlighted that the process was expensive.

On the demand by the RBZ that all affected agents should re-register, EcoCash said the exercise would be almost impossible to complete within a reasonable space of time to enable them to resume operations, particularly given the COVID-19 pandemic which has restricted travel and forced companies to close.

But the RBZ in its response submitted that it was investigating suspected money laundering activities which were driving the parallel forex market and applying pressure on the weak local currency.

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