Econet up in arms over USF

Herbert Moyo

ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe has called on the government to abolish the Universal Services Fund (USF), citing the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz)’s failure to account for the revenue paid into the fund by telecommunications players and failure to use it for its intended purpose of further improving the sector.
In his presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology focusing on policy misalignment on network development programmes, Econet chief executive Douglas Mboweni said that two per cent of his company’s gross revenue had to be surrendered to the fund in the absence of any communication as to how it will be used and despite the fact that it was not being ploughed back into information communication technology (ICT) development.
Mboweni, who said his company was “quite emotional” about the money it paid into the fund from 1998 to 2008, which Potraz could not account for, urged the government to abolish the fund.
“The USF is no longer relevant because we are already doing the work it was meant to be doing, especially building base stations,” Mboweni said.
All licensed operators in the postal and telecommunications sector are supposed to contribute to the USF administered by Potraz, which was set up to finance the provision of postal and telecommunications services in the under-serviced areas of the country. It was revealed that Potraz had built a paltry 8 base stations to be operated and shared by players in the telecommunications sector.
In 2010, Potraz was accused of sitting on US$20 million under the USF due to its failure to come up with a concrete plan to utilise the funds. It was reported at the time that government had decided to direct US$10 million of the fund towards supporting the country’s fibre optic backbone, critical for the maintenance of high standards of quality in the telecommunication sector.
However, Econet which revealed that it had so far contributed US$30 million since dollarisation, said it was already investing more funds in the fibre optic link and base
stations, which rendered the USF irrelevant.
Mboweni also expressed Econet’s displeasure at the other cellular communications companies’ failure to match his Econet’s contribution to the fiscus, saying “no company was given more resources than the other.” Econet has this year contributed US$414 million to government through taxes and licensing fees.