The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) management met over the weekend with the parliamentary committee on information communication technology in Kadoma to highlight their mandate, progress and challenges. During the meeting, a number of issues came up that are at the core of the ICT sector. Business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) caught up with Potraz director-general Gift Machengete (GM) to discuss the issues:
MC: In your presentation on cybercrime, you said the country is in great danger. Do you think Zimbabwe has the capacity to fight cybercrime?
GM: I don’t think Zimbabwe has the capacity at the moment to fight cybercrime. In light of that, we feel it is important to look at how to fight it.
While there are a number of technologies to fight cybercrime, I don’t think it’s enough because there is a lack of awareness, especially in the banking sector. People don’t even know whether they are hacked or not. That in itself is so serious.
This then means that we need a lot of cybercrime security education and awareness, which we don’t seem to be having. Although the technical side might be there, we still need awareness. I read somewhere that people’s accounts are hacked in Zimbabwe every single day, but people don’t know.
There are other countries that already have cyber security institutions to deal with cybercrimes, but we are still lagging behind because we do not have anything. The ministry used to be called the ministry of ICT and cyber security but there was nothing, no structures which the ministry could use to fight the cybercrimes.
MC: What are the key components that are lacking but are crucial in fighting cybercrime in Zimbabwe?
GM: Right now, because the technical side is there, you can have firewalls and a number. This is a technical penetration measure. What is really lacking is cyber security awareness education to the population and to those working in sensitive places.
MC: You spoke about your efforts to revive the postal services sector through a model post office. How feasible is the model?
GM: It is very feasible because we are not the only people looking to start something like this. We went to Hungary and Malaysia on an education tour to study what they have done and how they have managed to turn around their postal services. We discovered that it can be done. They have done it in a big way to the extent that they no longer rely on government for grants or handouts.
They are profitable as a business. They have gone into e-commerce, which has replaced the letter business and, for Malaysia, they now have their own planes and three ships which they have bought. That is what we are trying to do as well.
It will be a model post office, where a lot of government activities can be done, for example applications of passports can be done in there and all e-government business so that we won’t have a situation where people come from rural areas to come and have a birth certificate in town.
So we are coming up with a model in Chitungwiza and if that model is successful (which we think it will) we will then replicate it in all the other post offices. As you are aware, these post offices have been renovated and turned into information centres.
MC: What are the timelines to the model post office and what is the size of investment?
GM: I may not give you the correct figures on that one because it’s just a model at the moment and not the whole project. Last year, we had set aside US$200 000 or so. The purpose is to create one model and we just replicate that. We have not yet budgeted for that for now but by mid-next year, it should be done because right now plans have already been drawn and it’s an ongoing project.
MC: In terms of licencing, what can you say about the postal services sector?
GM: It depends with what we are talking about, remember we have one designated postal service provider, which is the Zimpost. However, we also have others which are coming and being licenced, especially those in the courier business.
MC: Today you are meeting with the parliamentary committee on ICT. What is the motive behind the meeting?
GM: Basically, we wanted the members to understand the Potraz mandate. We are going to be working with them a lot. They are supposed to understand our challenges and we also wanted to take this opportunity to alert them on new laws that would be passing through parliament so that they help us in the promulgation. The major law is the Cybercrimes Bill which hasn’t been passed — that one is very important. Then we also have been reviewing the Postal and Telecommunications Act; we want to align it with the country’s constitution.
We also have some regulations that come from time to time. We had to alert them so that when they are in parliament they won’t come across as strange law.
We also wanted to clear some misconceptions on a number of issues, for example the use of the USF (Universal Service Fund). We wanted to let them know that it’s being utilised in a way it’s supposed to be.
We also wanted to clear the misconception that information centres were being set up along partisan lines. We went to rural areas after we had finished with the urban areas. In towns, it’s mainly the opposition that has most of the seats.
MC: As a regulator, you have emphasised the importance of ensuring the viability of the ICT sector. What are the main problems that remain?
GM: Like I indicated earlier, the ICT sector is doing very well. Actually, it’s just one major problem that remains: foreign currency. As a sector, we are very much in need of foreign currency for a number of projects that we are undertaking. We also need forex as Potraz.
So far, we are relying on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for foreign currency allocation. I wouldn’t know as to exactly how much the sector needs at the moment because what happens is that sometimes ICT companies bring their requests as individuals as and when they are in need which we then forward to RBZ. Some need more, some less and these moneys do not come all at once. As for Potraz, we need money for a number of projects.
For example, we need computers for information centres and so on. The unavailability of forex is stalling some of these projects. This is not to say RBZ is not giving us anything; they have been giving us money. It is just that it is not enough and the fact that it is not enough makes it a problem that is threatening the viability of the sector.
MC: You indicated that the sector requires several billion dollars in infrastructural development to align itself with the government’s Vision 2030 goals. Can you clarify the figures?
GM: If we bring in inflation, it will top US$4 billion but we can’t be sure because of the situation which is volatile, but right now for broadband, towers and other projects we require about US$3,5 billion.
MC: You regulate mobile entities. One of them, Telecel, has been reeling from a plethora of problems, ranging from money issues to boardroom squabbles and shareholder fights. You have not pronounced your stance as the regulator. What is your comment?
GM: I’m not sure about the money issues at Telecel, but the situation at Telecel hasn’t been brought to the attention of the regulator, so there is no way we can just go in and launch a witchhunt. We cannot interfere in their boardroom fights; as long as they are paying their licence fees and complying, it’s fine.
You will realise that most of these regulators have been coming up with payment plans which they have been using to settle their arrears. We are living in tough economic times. Government holds a 60% equity stake in Telecel shares. Our job ends on the regulatory side.