A NEW twist to the Telecel saga has emerged amid indications that neither the major shareholder in the company, VimpleCom, nor local shareholders under Empowerment Corporation have agreed to sell their stakes to government as recently announced by Information and Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira.
Responding to a question in parliament last month, Mandiwanzira said Telecel had offered to sell its stake to government after it objected to the disposal of the mobile network operator to a foreign investor. Government rejected a foreign investor claiming the company’s shares had changed hands twice without Treasury earning any capital gains tax.
Mandiwanzira said a state enterprise Zarnet, would take over Telecel. However, Zarnet is on the brink of collapse due to financial problems. Its involvement has raised questions and suspicion that some powerful people wanted to take over the company and are merely using Zarnet as a cover.
Amsterdam-based VimpelCom has a 60% stake while Empowerment Corporation (EC) has a 40% stake.
Sources at Telecel told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that neither EC nor VimpleCom had indicated that they wanted to sell their shares to government.
VimpleCom officials did not respond to written questions, but a Telecel official said “the foreign shareholders do not want to be seen fighting the minister”.
EC officials denied offering their shares.
“We are only hearing it in the media because we do not have such a communication from government on that,” a member of EC said. “We are the local shareholders and any correspondence should have been directed to us, but we have not received such.”
The official also questioned government’s insistence that Telecel was not indigenised yet EC owned 40%.
Another Telecel official accused government of throwing its weight around to ensure the company is taken over.
“Authorities’ tactic is very simple. They caused unnecessary chaos in the market so that the Telecel market value continues to fall so that government can come in purporting to be trying to save the company,” another source said.
The official said Zarnet had no capacity to take over Telecel, but a private equity firm may be used to fund the take-over.
“Zarnet is just fronting some bigwigs whose names are being bandied around and may corruptly take over the country’s third largest mobile network provider (after Econet and NetOne),” said the source, adding that the take-over is likely to be for private rather than public benefit. “Government’s push for infrastructure sharing is aimed to capacitate Zarnet to take over Telecel on behalf of powerful interests.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Mandiwanzira would neither confirm nor deny that there had been communication between government and the shareholders.
“If you have spoken to the shareholders then there is no need to ask me,” Mandiwanzira said.
Government is set to force ICT firms to share infrastructure insisting this would improve telecommunication and data services in the country.
One of the Telecel’s local shareholders also said contrary to allegations that the operator had failed to settle its licence fee, the mobile network provider entered into an agreement with the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe to pay the US$137 million over a period of seven years.
The official said the company had met all its licence payment deadlines, with the next instalment expected by December.