“Government Orders Telecel to Stop Operating.” That headline from the national broadcaster ought to have kicked off interesting conversations at dinner. I wouldn’t be so quick to take it any further than that though.
From what has been unfolding in this playground fight for Telecel Zimbabwe, a pattern of misinformation and sensationalism has formed. Which, I guess, is what happens when there are too many fingers in one pie and just enough channels to create excitement. This becomes apparent when you consider that the excitement can have an effect on the outcome or its timeline.
We’ve been told that the Minister of ICT has called for Telecel to stop operating because it doesn’t have a licence and it is violating indigenisation laws.
Both concerns are genuine when it comes to operating a business in our country and these are, after all, the same “grave concerns” that got the Minister off the bench in the first place. The Minister clearly stated that his role in this issue would be that of a mediator of sorts, nothing more.
In spite of the clarification offered regarding the Ministry of ICT’s role in telecoms, we never fully figured out how far the Minister’s jurisdiction stretches in all things Mobile Networks. What we know as truth is that the industry is regulated by the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) which falls under the President’s Office.
Which means that the Ministry of ICT cannot effectively make the call to terminate the operation of a Mobile Network Operator, without POTRAZ and President’s Office passing their own judgement. That hasn’t happened here in any form or official proclamation, which explains why your Telecel line is still functional.
This doesn’t say the Minister’s directive is entirely impotent though. According to his statement captured by ZBC, he has the support of the national cabinet and a special committee that is being led by The Minister of Indigenisation, Chris Mushowe.
All this means that the leadership has weighed in and Telecel is expected to be sold off to some serious investor who could have been reluctant but is now expected to show commitment. In short, the Minister of ICT is out to trigger a sale of the mobile network.
As it stands, now is the best time to make such a move actually. Vimpelcom, the majority owners of Telecel (who are wary of Chris Mushowe’s Indigenisation Ministry) are in the country as we speak.
The other shareholders (Empowerment Corporation and their old friends) have come forward to claim what they feel is theirs and another offer from Brainworks, (however small it is in the scheme of telecoms’ potential) has been dangled in front of everyone.
The threat of terminated services or a serious government probe into the feasibility of operating a service that violates indigenisation might just be enough to get everyone to sit down and thrash out the finer details of a sale.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of the licence. We shouldn’t even be looking at it. It’s just bait in all of this. Telecel has been on the receiving end of leniency regarding the $137 million document, and I doubt that it would be used against it at this hour. Somehow another “special arrangement” will be made for whoever wants to buy the MNO.
This extends beyond the political ties that Telecel possesses. We have State coffers that would be sorely disadvantaged by the death of a mobile network.
At the end of it all, this is supposed to end with a new set of owners for Telecel, nothing more. It’s just that the ugly side of capitalism and the greed that can come with telecoms has just shown itself in our backyard.