Potraz calls for policy makers' collaboration

HARARE - The Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has called for collaboration among various stakeholders to ensure that the country achieves its desired targets in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing acute foreign currency shortages due to low exports, high government expenditure and huge external debts, resulting in companies struggling to import critical raw materials and spare parts for their operations.

Gift Machengete, the Potraz director-general, on Monday told Parliament that the regulator was failing to increase the country’s Internet penetration rate due to lack of foreign currency.

“Our aim is that when it comes to ICTs no one should be left behind, especially those living with disabilities. We are currently targeting institutions with people with special needs such as Emerald Hill School of the deaf, St Giles, Jairos Jiri, Kapota and Karoi High School.

“We have made requests to the central bank for foreign currency allocations, but those requests are yet to be honoured and we understand the situation,” he said.

“However, we would be glad if policy makers can lend us support as most of the gadgets we need for people with disabilities are imported,” he added.

The Potraz boss further indicated that his organisation was moving in line with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 2030 vision of a middle-income nation, by ensuring that most people in the country have access to ICTs.

Over the past few years, Potraz has been establishing community information centres (CICs) across the country.

The CICs are equipped with computers and Internet services that enable members of the community to carry out research and have basic knowledge on information and communication technology services.

To date, Potraz has established 147 CICs at post offices offering Internet and other ICT related services to communities, while 9700 individuals have been trained in ICT efficiency.

In 2017, 10 of these CICs started offering computer training to their local communities and these were Bindura, Chikato, Chinhoyi, Gokwe, Gweru, Jahunda, Lupane, Maphisa, Mupandawana and Murombedzi.

The world over, the CIC concept has been as the quickest way of enhancing ICT knowledge among people in their respective countries as businesses and education now revolve around ICT, making it a crucial sector in the economy therefore deserving attention.

Machengete also urged parliamentarians to play their oversight role by continuously engaging the telecommunications regulator on its mandate and projects.

“You should also be able to raise red flags on digital interventions necessary in your constituencies, to move motions during parliamentary debates on issues that affect the ICT sector.

“The motions could be aimed at, inter alia:  reviewing of the tax regime of the ICT sector, improving the foreign currency allocation for acquisition and upgrade of critical infrastructure as well as purchase/upgrade of regulatory tools, which will move the sector forward. To call for and support, during legislative debates, the promulgation of new laws to facilitate confidence and trust in the sector,” he said.

Chalton Hwende, the ICT parliamentary portfolio chairperson, said legislators were willing to work with the industry and ensure issues of affordability and universal access are addressed.

“We need to work hand in hand with the regulator and I’m happy that you spoke about affordability, I take note that you have intervened on behalf of consumers before. I hope we will discuss more at the workshop you will be having with the committee later in the month,” he added.

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