Telecel International execs expected in Zim

HARARE – A Telecel International (TI) delegation is expected in Zimbabwe today to brief regulators of its plans to offload its local unit, the Daily News has learnt.

This comes as the regional telecoms player’s parent Vimpelcom has signalled plans to divest from the industry and there is growing uncertainty over Telecel Zimbabwe (Telecel)’s licence after it failed to comply with the country’s indigenisation policy – compelling foreigners to cede majority shares to black locals.

As well as reports on the influential website that a buyer had expressed interest in Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile operator, Bharti-Airtel of India, a South African consortium led by Mzi Khumalo and MTN, and Portugal Telecom-backed Unitel have also been linked with the acquisition.

Telecel is 60 percent owned by TI, while the remainder is held by James Makamba’s Empowerment Corporation.

As reported by the Daily News on Wednesday, the company’s future hangs in the balance as the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has threatened – for the umpteenth time – to withdraw the Graniteside-based firm’s licence due to non-compliance with empowerment laws.

After partially agreeing to renew Telecel’s operating licence on condition that it pays its hefty $140 million fees and regularising its shareholding structure in line with Zimbabwe’s indigenisation policy in August 2014, it seems that there has been logjam somewhere along the line or chain.

As such, Potraz has threatened to clampdown on the mobile network operator and other punitive measures.

“Telecel Zimbabwe’s licence was renewed subject to payment of the initial licence fees and the regularisation of the shareholding structure…we have waited for more than a year for an update on your compliance with the indigenisation requirements,” Baxton Sirewu, Potraz’s acting director general, said in January 06 letter.

“…your non- compliance with the indigenisation laws has stalled the issuance of your licence document and you cannot continue to operate without a licence document,” he said, before summoning the company for talks three days later.

However, the outcome of the January 09 meeting is not yet known, as the regulator had not responded to enquiries by early evening Wednesday.

On the other hand, this is not the first time Telecel has faced challenges in its 17-year existence.

Ever since it was granted an “affirmative action licence” in the late 90’s, the company has experienced frequent boardroom wrangles, as its empowerment partners are always sparring.

About mid last year, it also faced serious questions from the regulator about its licencing fees – and under an arrangement agreed in August 2013 – but the company blamed one of its bankers for failure to remit part of the funds.

Comments (2)

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