Struggling Zimbabwe mobile operator Telecel has issued a statement responding to government moves to force the closure of its network. The firm, which is under fire for failing to pay an overdue USD137 million licence fee and for not meeting indigenisation laws, says: ‘Our shareholders are engaging with relevant stakeholders and are working closely and tirelessly with all key authorities to find a lasting solution to the issue.’ It is understood that representatives of Telecel’s 60% owner, Russian-backed Vimpelcom, are in Zimbabwe to attempt to resolve the crisis. Vimpelcom is currently looking to offload its stake in Telecel.
In 2013 Telecel agreed a seven-year licence fee repayment schedule with the country’s telecoms regulator POTRAZ. While the government insists the deal is null and void because the watchdog had no legal authority to reach an agreement, Telecel says that it should not be punished for failings at POTRAZ. The mobile operator’s statement continues: ‘We remain fully committed to Zimbabwe and to working with the government in order to comply with all legal and regulatory requirements within the agreed time frame. Telecel Zimbabwe takes very seriously its legal, financial, operational and social responsibilities.’
Telecel says it serves over two million customers (though TeleGeography notes that this figure is declining as users migrate to the country’s two rival networks) and it has invested USD237 million since it was established in 1998. It adds that it employs over 1,000 staff and contributes USD700,000 annually through its ongoing corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.