'Aborted data fees increase suspicious'

HARARE - While Communication Technologies minister, Supa Mandiwanzira this week suspended the new floor prices of data services which had been introduced by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) on January 9 until he resumes work end of this month, analysts are worried about the timing of the aborted increase.

And there are strong fears among Zimbabweans that government’s suspension maybe lifted and the hike introduced although it will not be that high.

The analysts said given that 2017 is the campaign year ahead of next year’s elections, government would like to curtail the use of social media given that last year Zimbabweans used the platform to air their grievances, a development that rattled the State.

The citizens also managed to mobilise themselves through social media and staged massive protests against government’s misrule, rampant corruption and police brutality.

Misa-Zimbabwe while welcoming government’s decision to suspend the exorbitant increase said there is still need for further consultations on an ideal pricing model for the sector given that Zimbabwe’s mobile data tariffs are among the highest on the continent.

“The envisioned pricing model should strike a balance between business interests and citizens’ rights to access. This can be achieved by ensuring competition and innovation in the sector in the interest of promoting access, affordability and respect for human rights,” said Misa-Zimbabwe’s senior programmes officer Nyasha Nyakunu.

In its reversal statement, Potraz noted the conduct and double standards of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) who were now denying that they engaged the regulator seeking for the increase.

However, analysts feel the move is regrettable and they doubt if it was mere coincidence that it is happening just a year before the elections.

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said it should be known that the proposed unprecedented rise of these tariffs was meant to erode fundamental freedom and rights of Zimbabweans. “Access to information is well-shrined in the Constitution and Potraz seemed to be doing exactly the opposite.

“We are aware of the idea behind all this and surely Zimbabwe is struggling to match other countries in the region on technological development and retrogressive minds always think of political hegemony.

“It is quite unfortunate that we have individuals who are sent to manage institutions like Potraz who will never grow professionally because they want to serve their political masters. “Social media in my view should be kept as cheap as possible to allow free exchange of information and ideas for the growth of Zimbabwe.”

Playwright Raisedon Baya said: “There are many theories that run in my head even if the minister says the hike has been suspended. That it could have been a calculated move to make sure there is little sharing of information during the rundown to election. Let’s not forget Evan Mawarire and his “ThisFlag” movement nearly crippled the government using social media. Now they would want to indirectly disable any social media revolution.”

Media practitioner Patience Zirima said the timing and the events in previous months gives room for Zimbabweans to speculate on the motives behind the floor prices for data tariffs.

“Whether intended or not, the net effect was going to make data beyond the reach of most citizens who rely on mobile phones to access the internet. It was going to affect how citizens would engage in electoral processes, given that WhatsApp and other social media have become a critical platform through which citizens’ access information and share ideas.”

Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu suspects that after trying threats and using the law, Potraz had decided to hit social media activism via the pocket. “The aborted huge and unjustifiable increase in data costs was meant to stifle the public use of social media and this is an election strategy to limit public engagement on the dire Zimbabwe situation.

“Any increase in the near future goes against local and world calls to enhance ICT use in business, advancing human, social and political rights of the public. At a time of e-banking, e-education and e-governance this increase could have taken us back to stone age.

“I suspect this shocking move was driven by political fear not strength, those were not actions of a government confident in itself.”

Communications and leadership expert Maggie Mzumara said this unfortunate development if it will be implemented would hamper people’s access to information. “The unfortunate thing with our situation is that we can’t put anything past our government. The few liberties our people enjoy government has on many occasions not hesitated to snatch them from the citizenry, thereby depriving them of any windows or opportunities of some relief in these hard times.

“We hope government reconsiders and the suspension will hold forever. You really cannot with certainty rule out politics and politicking out of this.”

Zesn director Rindai Chipfunde Vava said: “Access to information is critical to citizens participation using popular social media platforms. The proposed high prices could have inhibited the majority of Zimbabweans access to information on electoral developments and voter education necessary for making informed choices.”

Political analyst Blessing Vava said: “The obvious reality is that the Zanu PF government will now be employing all counter actions to bar Zimbabweans from social media. They are not taking any chances as we prepare for the polls in 2018.”

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the aborted move was another first by Zimbabwe, a new low in politics, economics and telecommunications.

“It was very unprecedented in any jurisdiction that a regulatory authority would side with services providers and trigger an increase in tariffs. Regulatory authorities in mixed economic systems are there to safeguard consumer interest and curb excesses of profit motivated business operators.

“In Zimbabwe, this move just illustrated how again we would have scored a first in doing things in reverse-political topsy-turvy. We are a true shack down economy where the business and corrupt government seize any opportunity to fleece the poor public, the consumers.

“Economically, the increase in tariffs has no backing. It’s unjustified, given the economic imperatives prevailing in Zimbabwe and a deflationary and repressed market.

“Apart from accessing social platforms and mobile money, people were getting information on early warning signs including animal diseases, pests, and rainfall partners, market prices for agriculture products, health alerts, and micro insurance information among others.

“These are all advantages to the general populace that will be affected by the ill-conceived and heedless move by Potraz. The whole mobile data bundle tariff rise in Zimbabwe is a heedless, retrogressive, insensitive and politically motivated onslaught on freedom of expression ahead of 2018 elections.”

Saungweme believes the proposed increase was meant to stifle political and activists campaigns that have shaken the core of the Zanu PF regime with social media campaigns such as #thisflag, #tajamuka and #Zimbabweyadzoka having proved to be very efficacious and successful.

“Zanu PF is very afraid of these campaigns. So this purported move must be seen as an early attempt at rigging the 2018 polls. This is one of a wide range of options Zanu PF intends to use to rig polls. “Rigging has already started. This is also a sign that there will be no electoral reforms at all. We have been yearning for electoral reforms that guarantee among other things, our freedom of expression. “This latest move was to block freedom of expression in a very big way and must be documented as the genesis of 2018 election rigging by Zanu PF.”

Comments (1)

...then you hear those 'vachenjeri' pointing fingers at Econet...ayas, some people ka, hameno...people, econet is not potraz...kwahi econet ndiyo yakaisa pressure...apa maZimbo tinotorwa kunge tiri mafuza shuwa...they knew that econet will implement coz it is privately owned, netone & telecel had inside information

Wacpop - 16 January 2017

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