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TeleAccess takes Mushohwe to court

Shakeman Mugari

BELEAGUERED telecommunications firm TeleAccess (Zimbabwe) has taken Transport and Communications minister Christopher Mushohwe to court over an oper

ating licence cancelled by regulatory authorities last year.

TeleAccess wants the court to force Mushohwe to reinstate their operating licence, which was withdrawn three years after majority sharholder, Daniel Shumba, got an operating licence for a fixed telephone network.

TeleAccess filed their appeal papers with the Administrative Court last Friday and the matter is due for a hearing in the next three weeks.

The postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Zimbabwe (Potraz) cancelled TeleAccess’ licence last year, saying the company had failed to roll out a fixed telephone network after three years.

Regulations state that a telecommunications company is supposed to roll out its network within three months of getting a licence.

TeleAccess was awarded the licence in January 2003 and was supposed to start operating in May the same year.

Its roll-out was stalled after the company failed to raise foreign currency and get local partners to fund the project.

But many critics viewed the withdrawal of the licence as a victimisation of the project’s promoter, Shumba, who at the time was linked to a succession battle meant to foil Joice Mujuru’s bid for the post of vice-president while promoting Emmerson Mnangagwa’s candidacy for the post.

Shumba, then ruling party provincial chairman for Masvingo, but now leading an opposition party, was, together with five other ruling party provincial chairmen, suspended from the ruling party.

The TeleAccess boss has blamed Potraz for delaying its project after it was unable to give the company numbering plans on time and failing to clarify “outstanding international gateway issues”.

TeleAccess took the matter to court after Mushohwe last month threw out its appeal against the cancellation.

Mushohwe had in his ruling on the appeal upheld the cancellation, saying TeleAccess was in “material breach of its licence conditions”.

He dismissed TeleAccess’ argument that Potraz had delayed giving the company numbering plans, crucial for the network start-up.

He dismissed the company’s defence that they had failed to roll out because of a dispute over the international gateway system and that it had made advanced efforts to raise funds.

“The appellant (TeleAccess) may have employed large numbers of people and dug trenches but what was it all in aid of when appellant neither had the equipment for network roll-out nor the financial resources to procure the same?” Mushohwe queried in his ruling dated April 20.

“The decision of the regulator to cancel TeleAccess’ operating licence is hereby confirmed,” he said.

TeleAccess’ appeal to the Administrative Court argues that the minister had erred in his judgment and that he had overlooked crucial issues in making his decision.

The company said it had failed to roll out its network because of lack of foreign currency, the absence of foreign funders and the hyperinflationary situation in the country.

Targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe’s ruling elite had also stifled its efforts to court foreign partners to provide foreign currency to import equipment.

TeleAccess said Mushohwe had erred in believing that TeleAccess had the financial resources to undertake a network project without offshore help.

“The project is of the size and magnitude that would require national as well as international backing and support as regards financial and other resources,” said TeleAccess.

“The equipment and other technical apparatus, information technology support systems and telephony hardware certainly require substantial foreign currency resources.”

The company is seeking a court order compelling the minister to set aside the cancellation of the licence.

Shumba said this week his company was going to roll out the network despite the cancellation.

“The fact that we appealed means that the cancellation has so far been set aside. Until the cancellation is upheld by higher courts we will continue with plans to roll out,” Shumba said.

TeleAccess still holds its communications licence number PFT20030102.

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