According to a report published by the Chronicle today, the Minister of ICT, Supa Mandiwanzira, has accused mobile operators of “fleecing” the country of foreign currency through understated international calls.
Addressing Parliament on the issue, the Minister stated that Government did not have the necessary equipment to monitor incoming and outgoing calls creating a technical grey area mobile operators are allegedly taking full advantage of by understating call traffic depriving the Government of much needed foreign currency in the process.
The Minister said:
“We are equally concerned that there appear to be under-declarations of revenues on the amount of calls coming into this country with the inflation of calls that are leaving the country where we have to pay foreign currency outside”.
More interestingly is the solution the Minister hinted at, a unified gateway. In his statement, the Minister blamed the lack of monitoring ability on mobile operators use of international gateways by saying:
“Because these international gateways are the conduits for traffic outside and into the country, we are only able to determine how much has come through and how much has gone out through their reporting without any particular system by ourselves to audit and make sure that those statistics are transparent”
A unified gateway would be a single entry and exit point for all voice traffic, well in this instance, which could allow greater monitoring of not only traffic statistics but conversations (something countries like China do very well).
The Minister further attacked mobile operators by accusing them of using off-shore accounts to externalize foreign currency, openly stating that the Ministry is now preparing to take action on MNOs:
“We have also discovered that the same companies are using Mauritius-registered companies which are not themselves owners of any bandwidth to buy bandwidth internationally and resell to related companies in Zimbabwe so that part of the margin is being kept outside.
So, we are working on a number of measures which we are still consulting on. Once we are ready, we are going to take action. This is an opportunity Mr Speaker Sir, to warn the companies that we are watching you and we are coming at you.”
Its interesting that the Minister’s comments come after the passing of SI 137 on Infrastructure Sharing which was passed early November. Talk of a unified gateway is not new though, it is mentioned in the Ministry’s ICT policy:
“The Government has long stated its policy for a single gateway operator. In order to coordinate the proliferation of international gateways and stem revenue losses, there shall be one Super Gateway which shall be the entry and exit point for all international traffic.”
However, there may have been need for some local context to push it the proposed unified gateway through.