Telecel takes govt to court over licence, minister drops cryptic ‘orange future’ hint

HARARE, – Telecel Zimbabwe, whose operating licence was cancelled last month over alleged non-compliance with the country’s regulations, has taken the state telecoms regulator to court, Parliament heard on Wednesday.

Telecel

The development was revealed by Information and Communication Technologies Minister Supa Mandiwanzira during a question and answer session in Parliament.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) cancelled the mobile phone operator’s licence on 28 April, and gave it 30 days to wind up operations and another 60 days to decommission its equipment.

Government says the decision was reached after Telecel Zimbabwe, the third largest mobile network operator in the country with 2,2 million subscribers, failed to comply with local ownership regulations despite constant warnings and reminders over the past 15 years of its existence. The government said Telecel had also violated its licence renewal fee payment plan with the telecommunications ministry, a charge the firm has vehemently refuted.

Potraz, however, said Telecel could lodge an appeal against the decision to the ICT minister, in terms of the law governing the telecommunications sector.

“Telecel has taken the matter to the High Court seeking an interdict to stop Potraz from implementing the order pending an appeal to the ministry,” Mandiwanzira said, declining to discuss the matter further as it was now sub judice.

“At this stage, the matter is before the High Court where if and when they get an interdict they will make an appeal, only at that point will I be able to give a position.”

On Monday night, Mandiwanzira took to twitter to announce he had met executives from VimpelCom, the Amsterdam-headquartered telecoms firm which owns 60 percent of Telecel Zimbabwe.

In the cryptic tweet, Mandiwanzira triggered speculation that other investors, possibly French multinational telecoms giant Orange, might be interested in taking over Telecel Zimbabwe.

Using his @supacollinsM account, Mandiwanzira tweeted: “Just finished a very positive meeting with Vimpelcom. It would appear the future of TZ (Telecel Zimbabwe) is orange, it’s bright.”

The Zimbabwean consortium which controls 40 percent of Telecel is made up of warring groups that include affirmative action pressure groups, war veterans, a farmer union, a small-scale miners’ association and an investment vehicle owned by James Makamba, a former ZANU-PF politician who fell out with President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party years back.

Interestingly, Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, is the managing director of the Empowerment Consortium (EC).

Zhuwao plunged the consortium into internecine warfare in January when he pushed for the sale of EC’s 40 percent stake to Brainworks Capital – an emerging force on Zimbabwe’s largely inactive corporate deal scene – for $20 million in a transactijon that would have valued Telecel Zimbabwe at $50 million.

The transaction suffered a stillbirth amid a raging dispute between Telecel Zimbabwe’s local shareholders.

The consortium has said its internal disputes have delayed Telecel Zimbabwe’s plans of complying with the country’s telecommunications laws, which cap foreign ownership of mobile network operators at 49 percent.

Telecel Zimbabwe says a plan for VimpelCom to offload 11 percent of its stake to an employee ownership scheme in order to pare its shareholding to the legally mandated levels was rejected by Potraz. – The Source

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