HARARE – Amsterdam-based mobile phone operator VimpelCom is seeking President Robert Mugabe’s assistance to secure an outstanding $30 million from the sale of its 60 percent shareholding in Telecel Zimbabwe (Telecel).
People privy to goings-on at the Nasdaq-listed telecommunications company told businessdaily that VimpelCom has since written to the nonagenarian leader to allow his government to expedite the payment, which was supposed to have been completed two months ago.
“We want the Zimbabwean government to prioritise this payment; hence we have had to write a letter to…Mugabe to help us get the money considering the fact that he promised to look into the matter when he visited Russia in May last year,” the sources added.
Vimpelcom announced in November last year it had agreed to sell to the government its shares in the southern African nation’s smallest mobile telecommunications company on condition that the transaction had to be concluded within 120 days.
However, Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government had to rope in the deep-pocketed National Social Security Authority (Nssa) to raise $40 million for the investment that was done through little known government-owned Internet service provider Zarnet.
To date, VimpelCom has only received $10 million with the remaining $30 million said to be holed up in a local bank.
Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira recently blamed the current cash-crisis for the delay in paying VimpelCom after Nssa had transferred the remaining money in February this year.
“The transaction has been concluded to the extent of paying money to VimpelCom through their nominated lawyers in Zimbabwe.
“The money is in a Barclays Bank account belonging to the lawyers of VimpelCom. So Zarnet has done its part,” he said.
“Barclays Bank has been having a problem of transferring that money due to non-funding of its nostro accounts internationally and, as a result, Barclays then approached the ministry to facilitate discussions with the central bank and the process will be concluded in May,” the Zanu PF legislator added.
Telecel’s remaining 40 percent is owned by Empowerment Corporation, a group of local shareholders who have also approached Nssa to buy their shares, Mandiwanzira said.
VimpelCom’s disposal of its 60 percent stake in Telecel has seen the mobile telephone company ceding its second position to NetOne due to lack of investment and new products in the country’s cut-throat telecommunications sector.
Latest data from the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe shows that Telecel — one of the most promising firms in the country — has been losing subscribers to competitors following uncertainty over the company’s operations.
“All mobile operators with the exception of Telecel experienced increases in their active subscriber base.
“Telecel subscriptions have been continuously declining since the third quarter of 2014. On the other hand, NetOne and Econet’s subscriptions have been generally on the increase,” Potraz said.
Telecel has 4,5 million subscribers behind NetOne and Econet with 5,7 million and 9,5 million subscribers respectively, according to Potraz.