EDITORIAL COMMENT: Shining light on the bad ones

Sincerity is a virtue possessed by very few mortals. At the heart of this desirable attribute lies honesty and integrity in conduct and communication. Instead, what we have as humanity is conduct littered with deceit and hypocrisy. The recent debacle involving the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) and Econet Wireless brings this to the fore.
The intention is never to mince any words and therefore we will pull no punches on this one in the interest of sincerity. The nation has heard all about how Potraz, the telecommunications industry’s regulatory body, approved a tariff hike that saw price floors being set at 12 cents per minute for voice calls while data sat at 2 cents per megabyte.

This, we were told, was after industry players sat down and made a proposal for such. Considering this was only a floor, the said players, particularly Econet Wireless, went on to quadruple the charges as soon as they could. After all it made business sense; they are in it for money, not charity.
Yet the company’s boss and founder Mr Strive Masiyiwa said he wasn’t in support of this big leap. Apparently we are expected to believe that such decisions are made without his approval.

Enter the Minister of Information, Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Cde Supa Mandiwanzira, who had just informed the nation that he was holidaying outside the country since Boxing Day until January 30 and therefore couldn’t be of any assistance on the pressing issue until then! The generous minister finally decided to get some work done during his holiday (never mind the fact that his boss President Robert Mugabe is handling several official engagements while on annual leave), and grilled the Potraz chairman; culminating in the suspension of the extortionate tariffs.

There were sighs of relief everywhere, The Sunday Mail newsroom included, but how had we reached at such a filthy spot in the first instance?
This finger pointing between the concerned stakeholders is nauseating. When people make certain decisions, especially those that affect other beings, they need to be prepared to own up and face the consequences.

Minister Mandiwanzira, Potraz, Econet Wireless, NetOne and Telecel are all equally to blame for this mess although their degrees of blameworthiness vary with their role in this dirty game. The three mobile network providers are all members of the Telecommunications Operators of Zimbabwe and all sat around that table to brew this storm. They should know that they are only there to serve the people so that communication can be smooth in this country. The moment they sabotage that communication for whatever reason, economic growth stalls. Ultimately, this will come back to bite them hard in their pockets. We all do not want that. As for Potraz, they do not need to insinuate that they were arm twisted by Econet into approving the tariff hike. The authority receives its fair share of whatever is earned by the telecommunication companies and therefore that was enough motivation for them to play ball.

Otherwise if they didn’t believe that the tariff hike was justified then they should have stood their ground.
In terms of Section 4 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act Chapter 12:05, Potraz is mandated to ensure sustainable and consistent provision of domestic and international telecommunication services.

It is also tasked with protecting consumers and promoting innovation. By approving those tariff hikes, Potraz failed dismally in delivering any of the above. The regulatory authority’s director-general Dr Gift Machengete actually justified the move as a way of maintaining a balance between service affordability and the viability of mobile operators.
Who then will protect mobile subscribers from these money mongers?

As for Minister Mandiwanzira, well the message is very much clear on the wall — there is simply no time to brag about your holiday experience while your portfolio is being tampered with.

It is not every time that you will be able to make a grand entrance on your horseback as our knight in shining armour. Public officials are expected to always sleep with one eye open.

After all is said and done, the subscribers are the grass that is being badly trampled upon as these elephants fight. According to a report on the state of prepaid market cost of communication submitted to the South Africa Parliament by African IT research body — Research ICT Africa — Zimbabwe has the third most expensive mobile data in Africa in the second quarter of 2016, with the cheapest monthly 1GB data package going for US$30.

South Sudan had the most expensive at US$90,83, followed by Swaziland US$30,33. The cheapest 1GB of data was available in Tanzania (US$0,89), Egypt (US$2,82) and Mozambique (US$2,87).

In October, there were reports that Potraz intended to reduce the data tariff, probably having considered the macroeconomic conditions that have reduced citizens’ disposable incomes.

They sniffed more revenues and their position changed. A little sincerity wouldn’t hurt.

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