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Foreign partners ditch telecom firms



Zimbabwe’s telecommunications companies

Zimbabwe’s telecommunications companies are being deserted by their foreign partners that service and upgrade their systems due to inability to meet payment obligations in foreign currency.

Telecommunication companies are not being prioritised in terms of foreign currency allocations by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), which has resulted in recent network problems.

However, the regulator the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), is engaging the central bank to prioritise the telecoms sector in foreign currency allocation.

“Our networks have been facing upgrade challenges and service support partners are owed a lot of money, they want to be paid,” said POTRAZ director-general Dr Gift Machengete speaking to journalists during a sector performance briefing.

“Potraz has been engaging the RBZ to prioritise the sector on foreign currency allocations and we will continue to do so,” he said.

The country has been grappling foreign currency challenges that have affected business operations, resulting in supply gaps in some sectors such as manufacturing. The telecommunications sector has not been spared.

Of recent, the country has been experiencing network hiccups with mobile money platforms being the worst affected, causing some disruptions in transactions.

Late last year, Potraz appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technologies and Courier Services and made calls for the sector to be prioritised on foreign currency allocations as it was highly dependent on imports.

“Currently there are no local suppliers of telecommunications equipment. All spare parts are imported and supplied by foreign vendors such as ZTE, Ericson and Huawei amongst others. This requires foreign currency.

“Spare parts for telecommunications equipment are not on the priority list for international remittances.

“This has negatively impacted equipment servicing, replacement of faulty, damaged and malfunctioning equipment, network upgrades and network re-dimensioning,” said Dr Machengete.

ICT has been identified as a key enabler to economic growth with its services used in all the key sectors of the economy such as mining, agriculture, education, health as well as industry and commerce.

According to the World Bank, there is a strong correlation between ICT growth and GDP growth.

In a 2009 report titled “Extending Reach and Increasing Impact,” a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration accounted for a 1,38 per cent increase in per capita GDP growth in developing economies.

The sector is also crucial in promoting ease of doing business especially at a time transactions are now largely skewed towards digital platforms such as internet banking, real-time gross settlement (RTGS) and other electronic platforms.

However, economic challenges such as limited foreign currency, the high cost of machinery and the current liquidity and cash crunch the country is experiencing are posing challenges for the sector as it has reduced consumer spending.

In 2018, the entire postal and telecommunications sector’s total investment went down 18 per cent to $160 million, while operating costs rose 22,6 per cent to $1 billion on inflationary pressures.

According to POTRAZ, the Average Revenue Per User per month (ARPU) for the mobile networks has gone down to $3,98 per month in 2017 from $4,97 per month in 2015.

Additionally, incremental cost studies, done in 2013 and 2014 and reviewed in 2017 revealed that Zimbabwean operators were being charged higher prices and higher interest rates for telecommunications infrastructure by international telecommunications vendors, such as Ericson and Huawei amongst others, as compared to the prices charged to operators in other countries.The Herald

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Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers



Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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Old Mutual’s Share Price Is Focus in Zimbabwe’s Currency War



Old Mutual Shares Zimbabwe

The share price of one of Africa’s oldest insurers is taking centre stage in Zimbabwe’s battle to bring order to its chaotic foreign-exchange system.
In the latest in a series of attempts to stabilize its currency, the government wants to eradicate the Old Mutual Implied Rate.

The gauge, used by domestic companies to determine the future cost of goods and services, calculates a potential forward rate for the Zimbabwe dollar by measuring the difference between Old Mutual Ltd.’s share prices in Johannesburg, London and Harare.

The indicator is among many “contrived phantom exchange rates” in use that “conspire to defeat fiscal policy,” the government said in a June 26 edict that halted trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and stopped most mobile-banking transactions.

The OMIR is one of the multiple exchange rates Zimbabweans use daily to navigate the nation’s myriad economic challenges, including annual inflation of almost 800%.

A perennial shortage of cash means anyone who has physical banknotes is able to negotiate exchange rates with brokers who pay the funds onto mobile-money platforms. The brokers can then sell the hard cash at an even higher rate.

That’s resulted in a widening gap between the official rate of 63.7 per U.S. dollar, and the amount at which it trades on the streets of Harare, which is now at 100.

“People have relied on making money from buying and selling Zimbabwe dollars, and not from any real production,” said John Robertson, an independent economist based in Harare. “It’s what has created these distortions.”

The OMIR also feeds into the black-market Zimbabwe dollar rate, which the nation’s bourse uses, along with the official rate, to determine the value of stock prices.

Old Mutual, founded in Cape Town in 1845, is not involved in determining the rate. Market participants take the company’s share prices in South Africa, the U.K. and Zimbabwe, convert each of them into the U.S. dollar, which should typically trade near par.

The finance minister, however, in March restricted trading in the shares of Old Mutual and two other companies by making the stocks no longer fungible or regarded as being equal in value to those traded on other exchanges, in a bid to prevent outflows caused by the dual listings.

Despite the move, investors poured into Old Mutual, using it as a proxy to the U.S. dollar because of its offshore listings, pushing the Zimbabwe-listed stock up 90% since the beginning of May. The shares in Johannesburg and London were little changed, resulting in the implied rate doubling to 122 as the gap between the securities widened.

Zimbabwe’s benchmark industrial index has risen more than sevenfold this year, reaching a record on June 24, and giving the overall bourse a market value of about 229 billion Zimbabwean dollars ($3.6 billion). None of the stocks in the 57-member index has declined this year as Zimbabweans seek a haven from runaway price increases and the weaker currency, which has slumped to 63.7442 per U.S. dollar after a 25:1 peg put in place since March was abandoned.

Suspend Listing
Authorities now want to eliminate the OMIR before allowing any trading to resume on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified because the talks are private. The OMIR was the focus of various meetings on Monday between members of Zimbabwe’s stockbrokers’ association, the stock exchange, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Treasury, the people said.

Measures being considered to include suspending Old Mutual’s shares from the Harare-based bourse, having the securities traded only in dollars, or moving the listing to the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange, a market that will only trade in foreign currency once it opens later this year, the people said.
Nick Mangwana, the government’s spokesman, referred queries to the finance ministry. Several calls and text messages sent to Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and central bank Governor John Mangudya seeking comment weren’t answered.

“There has not been any official communication from authorities in Zimbabwe to Old Mutual,” the Johannesburg-based company said in an email “We have asked our local subsidiary to reach out to our stakeholders in Zimbabwe to try and understand the circumstances around ZSE closure and other related matters.”

Discussions over the halting of trade on the stock exchange are ongoing and the outcome is still uncertain, SEC Chief Executive Officer Tafadzawa Chinamo said by phone. Zimbabwe Stock Exchange CEO Justin Bgoni said on Sunday that the bourse would wait for guidance from regulators.

In comments at a briefing after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the finance minister said that stockbrokers should assure their clients that their investments in the stock market are safe and that the bourse will reopen once investigations are complete. Bloomberg

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Zimbabwe government suspends mobile money transactions



Nick Mangwana

Zimbabwe government has, with immediate effect, suspended all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms to facilitate investigations that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of people responsible for sabotaging the economy.

In a statement this evening, Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mr Nick Mangwana, said the measures will include the suspension of all trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

The suspension will be in place until mobile money platforms have been reformed to their original purpose and when all the present phantom rates have converged into one “genuine rate that is determined by market forces under the foreign currency auction system which was launched by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe” on June 23. Operational modalities and details of the envisaged measures will be announced by the relevant monetary, regulatory and law enforcement authorise in the next few days.

The government will ensure that prudent measures are put in place to mitigate and prevent any collateral damage that the interventions may cause to the innocent public that was using the mobile money platforms. The Herald.

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