How Valid Is The "Telecel Licence?"

By Guest Writer

I have recently received numerous enquiries pertaining to Telecel License status. The best people to answer whether Telecel Zimbabwe has or had a license is the national regulator POTRAZ who are mandated by an ACT of Parliament to ensure the smooth running of telecommunication and postal services in Zimbabwe. What I say here is a personal opinion more so to what is needed to move forward.

The report carried by the Sunday Mail recently stated  that Hon.Minister of ICT Mr.Supa Mandiwanzira had announced the cancellation of Telecel Zimbabwe GSM license. The reasons stated in that report amounted to the effect that the license had been cancelled due to the operator’s non compliance with the local 51/49 shareholder requirement as per indigenization laws AND that they had no valid license or they had not paid for it.The report was kind of misleading as it had some technical contradictions. How do you suspend a license that does not exist ? I am sure that was a typo.

By Robert Ndlovu

Rewind – July , 2013 , an except from Econet press statement.

Econet Wireless was on 10 July 2013, awarded a renewed 20-year license following the expiry of the 15-year license issued in 1998. This license places certain strict conditions on our operations. Clause 5.2.2 of our license requires us to interconnect only with licensed operators.“

The above statement by Econet pretty much summarizes the licensing aspect of Telecel. And as such on July 25 , 2013 Econet disconnected Telecel.

Now from the Sunday Mail report and other subsequent press reports it appears to the man in the street that Telecel never paid their license as required by the government via the regulator POTRAZ. Now in simple terms Telecel was allowed to operate without a license. Well during these very harsh economic times it is fair to assume that Telecel and the Government  arranged a payment plan to pay for their license. Otherwise this would set a very wrong precedence as it would mean anyone can operate without paying up.

But wait. If one’s license is revoked they get turned off automatically. So we must assume that Telecel is still operating because their license was not cancelled. As to whether they paid their dues or not , I am certain the regulator is the best placed authority to respond to that. Bottom line we can not have situations where one operator is forced to pay and others are allowed to go without paying. Something bothers some of us , if Government can unilaterally decide to revoke or re-instate the status of an operator’s license with out the involvement of the regulator , in this case POTRAZ , then what is the use of the regulator ?

The Ministry might as well assume all legal , technical and other functions of POTRAZ. Policies do come from powers that be but we can not form parastatals to perform duties that they have no power to perform. Let the regulator to its job or disband it if someone else can do it. We can not perform duplicate duties. We pay taxes. The next paragraph pin points where the problem is.

POTRAZ the regulator that manages telecoms and postal services in the country has some issues which it can not solve some of its own problems because of various reasons mostly not of their own making. I will be blunt.

Here is a very critical and crucial institution that has been under different ministries at different times. But that is not as performance affecting as the fact that the regulator has not had a substantive Director General for quite a while ever since Eng.Sibanda left. In terms of the Labour Act, an employee is deemed substantive if they act in a position for more than six months. As a result acting DGs rotate now and again in order to avoid the legal complication. This makes it very difficult for the otherwise well staffed competent regulator to realize their long term objectives as guided by ITU. In short the fact that they do not have a permanent Director General makes them a toothless bull dog. At a time when technological changes are happening very fast we would expect a substantive DG to be appointed and steer the ship.

Naturally I am not interested in the Telecel shareholder drama or lack thereof portion of this and as such I have not dwelt on it but for us who love technology and know that technological progress is critical to the country’s development , are concerned with the current state of things.

Every operator must pay his or her license or at least make a payment plan. If this is not possible then do not be suprized that some NdlovuTel or ShumbaNet will be offering telecoms services very soon taking a leaf from the big brothers , since you can go for 2 years without paying a dime.

This really sounds like a climax of an episode of a soap opera in a country with a population of about 14 million people and has more than 10 registered telecom operators – this is public info. We need more spectrum for the new technologies and at this rate it is any body’s guess if we will be ready for the digital migration ear marked for 15 June , 2015. This is not a POTRAZ issue of course but it affects their spectrum planning and affects operators who want to roll out services that depend on the availability of frequencies that will be given up when broadcasting switches from analogue to digital. This is no rocket science .

I will not ask the question if the other third GSM operator paid its dues. One can not afford not to think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where other animals were more equal than others.

ndlovu@ymail.com : + 263 77 600 2605

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