EDITORIAL COMMENT: Government must learn from Telecel ordeal

REPORTS that subscribers deserted Telecel Zimbabwe after government threatened to close the mobile cellular operator last year confirmed our fears.
Last year, government threatened Telecel Zimbabwe with closure after a fallout over a US$137 million bill that the network should have paid to renew its 20 year operating licence.
Listening to both sides, they all had important points to make.
But government lost it when it failed to find a neutral observer to iron out its misunderstanding with Telecel.
It then chose the belligerent option, which has brought Telecel to the predicament it finds itself today.
In a country where a mobile phone has assumed an integral part in everyday life, the market reacted to the threats through a mass subscriber exodus.
Almost 60 percent of Telecel’s 4,6 million lines were idle during the third quarter of 2015, which is the period when government leaned heavily against the hapless network. In other words, subscribers took contingent measures to avoid Telecel because its future was uncertain.
If Telecel had been closed, subscribers would have lost contacts and business networks created through cellphones in this information era. More so, the cellphone line has ceased to only be a means of communication alone. Its role has taken many dimensions. Sim cards are now keeping records about insurance policies and health issues. Through mobile money transfer platforms, cellphones have assumed the role of banks as well.
These platforms carried over US$455 million in deposits during the third quarter of last year and threats to close a mobile firm are as good as threatening a bank.
The shockwaves that such threats inflict on the affected network are huge and what happened to Telecel is a case in point.
The sad thing is that the flight of subscribers that has rocked Telecel will eat into revenues. Very soon, Telecel will be in the red unless there are contingent plans to reverse this. Telecel’s case took a complex dimension when government took majority shareholding from Telecel International.
It was like a kiss of death to the asset.
Everybody knows how bad government has so far managed parastatals and that everything it touches turns into dust. This could partly explain why subscribers deserted Telecel the moment government sealed the controversial transaction.
We still argue that the disturbances that we have seen at Telecel are State- inflicted and uncalled for.
Government should learn from this calamity, immediately!
We are aware of the mismanagement and corruption that has crippled companies once they have been placed under State control.
Government already operates over 100 parastatals, most of which are on the brink of collapse. We have warned against the dire implications of giving government a free reign dictating what happens in corporate boardrooms.
We are still convinced that government should confine itself to working out viable policies to encourage investment as opposed to running corporates.

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