The Sunday News
Tinomuda Chakanyuka, Senior Reporter
THE Minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Postal and Courier Services Cde Supa Mandiwanzira has warned the country’s leading mobile telephone operator Econet Wireless, to stay away from politics following accusations from the company that the minister lied over the issue of data tariffs.
Cde Mandiwanzira urged the mobile phone operator to stick to its mandate and rectify its “seemingly fraudulent billing that makes data credit disappear even when subscribers have not used it”.
He was responding to a public statement by Econet Wireless in which the mobile phone operator accused him of lying and misleading the nation on the data tariffs issue. The mobile phone operator blamed Cde Mandiwanzira for last week’s mobile data prices debacle, accusing him of colluding with other mobile phone operators to portray Econet Wireless in bad light.
Cde Mandiwanzira, in a strongly worded statement yesterday, expressed alarm at the “highly political and defamatory” statement by Econet Wireless.
“The political undertones of the statement, which takes a dig at the Ministry of ICT, Postal & Courier Services and myself, are alarming. I urge the company to stay away from politics and stick to its core mandate of business,” he said.
Added Cde Mandiwanzira: “Rather than attack the minister and the Government, it is advisable that Econet should address concerns by their subscribers who are and have been losing money through seemingly fraudulent billing that makes data credit disappear even when subscribers have not used it. These complaints have come to my office, Potraz and are widely shared on social media.”
Cde Mandiwanzira also alleged that top management from Econet have been to his office on many occasions seeking to have mobile data tariffs increased.
“It is also on record that Econet top management have been to my office, not only once, pleading that I do not approve proposals to decrease tariffs and that they be increased instead because their business was suffering and on the verge of being called out by European banks from which they have received loans,” he said.
The data prices fiasco started early last week when Potraz announced floor prices for voice and data for bundled services including promotional packages. This saw the cost of mobile data going up by about 2 500 percent, drawing outrage from mobile phone users.
Econet Wireless was the only mobile phone operator which complied with the Potraz directive, with details however, later emerging that the directive had been instigated by the mobile phone operators. Cde Mandiwanzira intervened and suspended the data tariffs hikes, but Econet Wireless claimed the reversal had been directed by its board earlier and not the minister.
The mobile phone operator also alleged that that the floor tariff exercise was, “in fact a farce and a set up intended by the Minister and or competitors who were under the Minister’s control to portray the new Director General of Potraz in bad light and to portray Econet as gluttonous and insensitive to the public”.
However, Cde Mandiwanzira had a different opinion. “It may also be in their best interests to explain to their subscribers why their new tariffs were far higher than the floor price which they claim to have been complying to,” he quizzed.
Cde Mandiwanzira added: “Econet must accept that they took the lead in determining the recent price hikes and records of meetings show. In fact, had it not been for Potraz, Econet wanted to charge far much more than the tariffs they eventually implemented before the ministry intervened. Documentary evidence is available to prove this.”
Cde Mandiwanzira advised Econet to desist from attacking Government, urging the mobile phone operator to use proper channels of communication to air their concerns.
“I strongly advise Econet to use the correct channels of communication should they have genuine concerns against the regulator, the ministry or against myself. I remain available to address any of their concerns outside of the public domain — which is a much more appropriate way to conduct business,” he said.