Zimbabwe ICT Minister is the worst cabinet Minister since 1980

Jenfan Muswere

While technology seems to favour the young and energetic, the story is not the same for one of the youngest cabinet ministers in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, Minister Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of ICT Postal and Courier Services.

By Stephen Mapfumo

As the year came to an end, we review various government ministries, their performance, targets and more importantly achievements against set goals.

We review also how they solved various ministerial problems.

Many probably know the minister as the camera shy one who only relies on written speeches and rarely says anything off the caff the sector. This has been conceived in some quoters as a sign of lack of passion and understanding of the sector he is supposed to be overseeing.

The Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services is one interesting ministry in Zimbabwe.

It is one of the youngest ministries in the government of Zimbabwe.

Officially commissioned in 2009 following a pact which gave birth to the now defunct government of national Unity.

It came after the Ministry of Transport and Communication split into two, that is the Ministry of Transport and Energy as well as the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services.

A young minister during the government of national unity, Nelson Chamisa was mandated to stir up the new ministry.

Chamisa was 31 years of age then.

The current minister, Jenfan Muswere, who is now the fifth minister since the inception of the ministry is 39 years as of December 2020.

Born on the 19th of December 1981, Muswere, a Zanu PF youth league secretary of finance romped to victory when he won the Makoni West parliamentary seat.

Those in politics know him as one of the key actors in making sure that then Vice President Mnangagwa escaped harm during the latter’s acrimonious relationship with the President Robert Mugabe.

For playing such a role, many felt that Mnangagwa rewarded him with a ministerial post, one in which he has completely failed to deliver.

Unfortunately, the youthful minister has failed to add life into the sector compared to his predecessors.

Instead of using his energy to grow the ministry, he has unfortunately been viewed as part of the myriad problems bedevilling the sector.

It is strongly felt that the sector has lost its economic value in his full view after the young minister has chosen to remain behind the scenes.

The biggest let down was his failure and lack of interest to fix Telecel Zimbabwe’s demise.

Telecel is currently incapacitated and the minister has failed to implement the government’s proposed partial srivatization to bring the once fastest growing mobile operator back to its former glory.

He has never uttered policy or direction on how best they could recapitalise the asset, while the ship continues to sink.

He has failed to restore sanity in one of the state-owned enterprise telecommunications company, NetOne.

The country is experiencing mobile network challenges, tariff issues have been a cause for concern among customers.

The regular Potraz has switched to the cost-based billing system driving instability to both the consumers and the operators as they chase dollar value.

Former ministers who came before him aggressively championed removal duty on ICTs and priority payments on ICT importation and services, this has been ignored in toto.

Unlike his predecessors who worked so hard to make the ministry vibrant and move with the digital era, Muswere seems to be ignorant of what is expected of him.

To take you back a little bit, Nelson Chamisa was the first minister before Webster Shamu replaced him after the subsistence of the government of national unity.

He was popular for making sim cards and handsets prize tumble.

Shamu, who also seemed to have no clue about the technology industry, did nothing but read speeches before he was replaced by Supa Mandiwanzira.

Shamu however did not interfere in the internal politics and day-to-day running of state-owned enterprises; he was not a technocrat but allowed experts to deliver, while he continued to read his speeches.

Mandiwanzira understood the dynamics of technology quite well which was also supported by his eloquence in speech.

He was a business mogul, very ambitious minister and knew exactly how things must go no to sustain the sector.

Unfortunately, he was a straight businessman, who failed to mix politics and business of the day.

The former television presenter did not last long after the removal of Mugabe from power through a military assisted coup.

The New Dispensation headed by the current President Mnangagwa took over and handed the ministry to Kazembe Kazembe with Muswere as deputy.

Kazembe is the most sober minister we have ever had.

He is reported to have appointed board members he has never physically met, but had beautiful resumes, it was appointment based on merit not aristocracy.

A cabinet reshuffle saw the promotion of Muswere to a ministerial post.

The ministry has never had any serious issues or controversy, but not during the times of Supa Mandiwanzira, who was blamed by former NetOne boss, Reward Kangai for introducing to the nation what is now called the “Birth and growth of a cartel in the ICT sector” in Zimbabwe.

This opened a can of worms which we still think to date are running the sector.

The biggest problem in the ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services is lack of policy direction, strategies and ideas to move Zimbabwe tech sector out of the doldrums.

The other problem has been focusing on the only state-owned enterprises that has been making profit, NetOne.

TelOne has been doing very well of late, there has not been any reported scandal except the Pachedu fiber deal that has gone quiet.

The other issue that has raised eyebrows in the ministry is how and why the ministry recently licensed only dark fiber Africa as the latest ISP and IAP at the time it cancelled multiple of local licences.

Yet the government had been preaching infrastructure sharing to stop duplication of services.

It seems there is so much energy, focus and strategies to milk the NetOne, with many battles today sucking in many officials, a move which to date caused serious instability at the second largest telecommunications company in the country.

State players evidently continue to wrestle over NetOne financial resources.

The then NetOne managing director Reward Kangai broke his silence after he was fired from company exposing how the cartels were fighting over the company’s resources.

Kangai wrote to Mugabe in a letter entitled, the birth and growth of a cartel in the ICT sector in Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, most of his allegations and evidence he unearthed were ignored or had a political initiated outcome.

The accused Supa Mandiwanzira was however exonerated of most of these allegations that were levelled against him by state.

Kazembe Kazembe tried to stabilise the ship when he took over as minister, he fired the boards that were being used and created new ones altogether.

Telecel was sinking because the former minister had announced that he was going to close it and promised to cancel its licence.

However, it only turned out that the government was the fiery bidder when Telecel finally decided to pack up.

Long story short, the government then acquired Telecel.

Kazembe fired the previous boards that were appointed by his predecessor.

This saw a new Potraz, Zimpost, NetOne and Zarnet board being appointed and these to date were reported to have performed professionally and independently.

To date, some of his boards are still running, but the NetOne ghost again visited the current dispensation.

The biggest problems started off when the NetOne board led by Chairman Mutizwa complained about serious unprofessionalism and lack of corporate governance.

The chairperson and other board members were then either pushed out or forced to resign as the NetOne tensions heightened.

This complaint needs to be visited and an inquiry is meant to be done to come out with proper findings.

The biggest problem in the ICT sector was how Telecel was acquired, and why to date there is no share certificate availed and funding strategy by the major stakeholder who is government.

The ministry of ICT has 60% stake in Telecel but to date has failed to inject capital into its entity.

Lack of capital resources have seen Telecel Zimbabwe slowly sinking.

In the past years, Telecel Zimbabwe was the country’s fastest growing mobile network but to date its revenues have plunged, subscribers depleted, and national coverage dwindle.

As if that was not enough, it has lost human resources to competitors.

It’s mobile money facility, Telecash, has crushed out with very few base stations running nationwide.

This asset would have operated better with a better investor, but the ministry has remained mum and clueless on how to solve it.

Mandiwanzira was very popular for driving the infrastructure sharing policy, the vision was to try and reduce duplication of services and encourage investments in other less serviced areas.

This vision was immediately abandoned when he left office.

The ministry in its wisdom created a company called Zarnet, it has board members on government payroll and basically the company is not known for anything else except duplication of service, yet the ministry is still maintaining it.

Another biggest let down from the ICT ministry was its failure to defend or advocate on removal or subsided duty on ICTs.

This is the legacy that was fought for and installed by the first minister, driving Zimbabwe’s mobile and voice penetration with an all-time time figure of 102% voice penetration and 60% data penetration.

However, these high statistics are greatly falling and dropping with each and every passing year, a red indicator which needs urgent attend attention as ICTs are major drivers of the nation’s GDP.

Back to NetOne confusion, of the board members appointed by Kazembe, only one board member did not resign.

She was not forced to do so like others, as alleged. In fact, she was promoted.

Today she is the acting Netone board chairperson and her name is Susan Mutangadura.

She is considered to be the biggest problem at NetOne which Muswere has personally created by appointing her.

According to sources, she has violated all known basic corporate government ethics in the history of the ministry.

Mutangadura sucked in the permanent secretary of ICT engineer Sam Kundishora into her scandals where she lied before the courts of law, a crime of perjury that Mamvura was never a board member.

In his attempt to exonerate the Mutangadura, Permanent Secretary Kundishora wrote a rather embarrassing letter telling the world that Mutangadura was innocent of not acknowledging the appointment, as he had not announced the appointment as the permanent secretary.

This attempt however did not decriminalise the crime, unfortunately one of the board members Ranga Mavhunga was arrested for this crime, while surprisingly Mutangadura was protected from the long arm of the law, as she was not arrested or prosecuted for the same crimes her subordinate is facing.

To put the ministry into another disrepute, the permanent secretary wrote another letter in which he told the police to stop investigating reported crimes at NetOne because they were not complaining or aggrieved by the allegations, hence the state must look other side.

This was a new low by the Ministry of ICT under Muswere as they clearly self-incriminate in their ignorance of basic application of the law.

The ministry of ICT pulled another shocker when it insisted on hiring ZTE, a company linked to the infamous Kangai cabal case, where the government was ready to pay a new company millions for billing and switching services already offered by a competitor techno tree.

Under Muswere’s watch, NetOne lost an arbitration case against payments solutions provider Formula Telecom Solutions (FTS) in the London International Court of Arbitration

NetOne was demanded to pay Israel-based FTS US$5 million in compensation.

The latest complete disrespect of rule of law occured when the NetOne board tried to fire its former CEO Lazarus Muchenje, senior manager, Loveness Goverah and Tauya Mugwagwa on termination of contract basis, a move which the judge blocked for the managers, legally setting a precedence.

Justice Dube said that by, “failing to comply with the requirements of section 12(4a) of the Labour Act, NetOne failed to comply with the due process of law”.

Irked by such a judgment, the board appealed against it, a move which the minister must have reigned.

NetOne under Mutangadura has been in continuous contempt of court, where the company risks being sued as they wilfully violate the nation’s court orders.

The first contempt of court was when they physically barred Muchenje from attending work, even after winning a High Court interdict.

The second contempt was when they withdrew a court case awaiting judgment and go ahead to fire the CEO when there is a current interdict stopping them from doing so.

They have recently done another contempt of court by announcing in the government gazette that a CEO has been fired when they know for sure that they have been stopped from firing or hiring a CEO till the high court finalises the case.

This is another clear disregard of the law as they continue to operate like carefree mafias.

The worst that is happening is that NetOne under Mutangadura is bleeding millions in futile court cases, which it drops and resurges at cost.

If NetOne was a private company no shareholder would have allowed such attitude.

Minister Muswere has failed to reign in all these issues and one wonders whether its incompetence, errors of omission or commission.

Any progressive minister would have reigned in and stopped these serious issues collapsing the once highly regarded tech sector in Zimbabwe.

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