The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has finally cancelled the operating licence of troubled mobile operator Telecel, giving the firm 30 days to cease operations. ‘In order to facilitate the smooth switch-off of the Telecel Zimbabwe network as well as ensuring that disruption is minimised, POTRAZ concurrently issued a special licence to Telecel to continue providing telecommunications services for a period of 30 days,’ the regulator said in a statement.
Telecel, a 60% subsidiary of Russian telecoms group Vimpelcom, has been under fire for failing to comply with indigenisation laws which require at least 51% local ownership, and has also been criticised for its failure to pay off a USD137.5 million licence fee owing since August 2013. The cellco did forge an agreement with POTRAZ under which it was able to pay for the licence in instalments, but the government ruled that POTRAZ had no authority to agree to such a deal and cancelled the arrangement in February this year. Meanwhile, Vimpelcom has been looking for a buyer for its stake, with firms such as MTN of South Africa and Unitel of Angola linked as potential buyers of a reduced 49% shareholding, with local investors seeing their interest increased to 51%.
Telecel has responded strongly, labelling the move to close its networks as ‘unfair and unwarranted’. In a statement on its homepage it said: ‘Telecel has made every effort to comply with all legal and governmental requirements in Zimbabwe, and objects to this treatment in the strongest terms. Telecel and its global shareholders are taking immediate action both locally and internationally to challenge this decision. Telecel would like to assure its customers and stakeholders that it will take all possible steps to maintain the full range of its services throughout this process.’ The firm, which serves around two million customers, is expected to launch an appeal with the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services.
Meanwhile, Telecel has told its subscribers to ignore a ‘fake and malicious’ internet message telling them to withdraw their deposits from its mobile money service Telecash.