HARARE – Zimbabwe's largest mobile network operator, Econet, took the gloves off at the weekend, savaging embattled Information Communication Technology (ICT) minister Supa Mandiwanzira and bluntly accusing him of peddling barefaced lies regarding last week’s Internet data fiasco.
The unusually strong reaction to Mandiwanzira by the telecommunications giant came after Econet was incensed by what it said was the minister’s “dishonesty” regarding his purported directive to reverse the government’s ill-advised data increases of last week, which were announced by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), before it made a volte face in the wake of palpable public anger.
Mandiwanzira, who had earlier used micro-blogging site, Twitter, to announce to long-suffering Zimbabweans that he was out of the country enjoying himself on holiday, and that he FROM P1
would thus only be able to deal with the data fiasco upon his return at the end of the month, subsequently made a surprising somersault, issuing the statement that purported to reverse the data increases.
“Internet is now a key driver of economic growth – innovation, entrepreneurship and government service delivery. Internet access is at the centre of all development. It therefore follows that it must be accessible — physically and financially.
“I share and sympathise with concerns expressed by a multitude of Zimbabwean Internet users that the recently effected data prices are unparalleled and extortionist,” Mandiwanzira said, adding that he was therefore moving to suspend the new data tariffs with immediate effect.
However, Econet — which has previously been hammered by authorities for offering cheap products to its customers — immediately pointed out that all it had done during the fiasco was comply with Potraz and Mandiwanzira’s directive to implement the new price regime, and that as such, it was surprised by the minister’s accusations.
“This is false and misleading. Up to the time we did the roll back, no such reversal (as later announced by Mandiwanzira) had been communicated to us. Our reversal of the tariff increases followed a directive by our own board.
“The Regulatory Notice was subsequently withdrawn after we had already implemented our own measures.
“This duplicity by the minister is intended to discredit us in the eyes of our customers and in the eyes of government and to also portray the new director general of Potraz as incompetent,” Econet raged in a hard-hitting statement.
“We urge the government of Zimbabwe to move decisively against the capture of this all-important industry by an individual who has such inconsistency and duplicity.
“Since his (Mandiwanzira’s) appointment to this ministry, he has behaved as if he is the minister of the government-owned (telecom) entities alone, and has been relentlessly attacking us without just cause and reversing the gains that this sector has made over the years.
“On 12 January 2017, when it became clear that an exercise that was driven by the regulator with the full knowledge and participation of the minister and that we thought would contribute towards levelling the playing field was in fact a farce and a setup intended by the minister and our competitors who are under the minister’s control to portray the new director general of Potraz in a bad light and to portray Econet as a gluttonous and insensitive to the public, our board directed us to reverse the data tariff increases.
“We wrote and delivered a letter to Potraz on January 12, 2017 in which we indicated that we would revert to our old tariffs if the regulator did not ensure that all the operators complied with its regulatory notice by end of day January 12, 2017.
“To anticipate our reversal of the data tariff increases, the minister, who is supposed to be on leave published a notice in the press in which he claimed to have reversed the tariff increases,” Econet added.
The blue chip telecommunications firm said contrary to claims that it was gluttonous, it had instead run multiple promotions carrying competitive tariffs as part of rewarding its loyal customers.
However, these affordable promotions — such as the WIFI Inside promotion, the Free Wifi on prepaid data bundles promotion, the international voice bundles promotion, the SMS and Win promotion, and the usage based promotion — had been stopped by Potraz in July last year when the government came under pressure and as it battled angry ordinary citizens who were staging rolling protests.
“All these promotions had the effect of offering reduced data prices and free data in some instances to our loyal customers.
“We applied for an extension of these promotions. Our applications were declined on the basis that a new regulatory framework to govern promotions would be introduced in mid-August.
“This ban on promotions was implemented against a background of Regulatory concerns over the perceived abuse of social media that we were accused of contributing to through our low data tariffs,” Econet revealed in its statement.