Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Jenfan Muswere is highly commended for recently firring three Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) board members for alleged failure to come up with strategies and innovative ideas that support the Ministry’s broader vision of achieving a digital economy by 2025.
A source privy to the latest development revealed to TechnoMag that Minister Muswere had on several occasions requested the board to submit a clear strategic plan on how to advance his vision but to his disappointment nothing came from the team.
Allegations are that the board failed to effectively run the organization’s innovation fund which is meant to support startups while also showing no plans to disburse the critical USF Funds.
The minister, according to the source, was left with no option but to fire the three board members for incompetence and sabotage.
earlier on in November the minister complained
“We have only received two strategic projects from two board members. We expect the board to give direction in terms of the management of Potraz.
“We have done our part and provided proposals for board approvals to no avail. Smart policing, smart agriculture, smart health, e-passports, et cetera. What is missing is the board’s direction as we move towards a digital economy,” said Minister Muswere while addressing the regulator’s strategic workshop recently.
“The Potraz board should take the lead in aligning the strategic plan to Vision 2030.”
The telecommunications regulator is expected to effectively align its strategic outlook to Government’s medium-term blueprint, the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).
NDS1 outlines several broad targets for the ICT sector under the Digital Economy National Priority area.
Members who survived the chop include Sibanda, Tinashe Robin Tanyanyiwa and Fradson Shavi.
“They have been chiefly fingered over none utilization of key funding under USF Funds yet in their practice have continued to block innovative ideas collected under the innovation fund driven yet rolling over millions which has lost value due to high inflationary pressure,” the source revealed.
The USF fund contributed by local telecommunications companies is used to bankroll the development of telecoms infrastructure in the country under an ambitious plan to network the entire country, improve telecommunication and financial inclusion.
These USF fund contributors include the country’s three mobile telecoms operators — Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, NetOne and Telecel, in addition to internet access providers and the fixed line operator, TelOne.
Money from the USF has been deployed towards building community information centres and building base stations in remote areas to improve connectivity.
Operators are required to contribute 2% of their annual gross turnover to the fund.
In 2018, Potraz said it had collected ZW$120 million from the fund since its establishment in 2009, which at the time was equivalent to US$120 million.
Potraz added that it had earned a further $10,6 million through interests on investments, bringing the total package to $130 million at the time.
This figure was also equivalent to US$130 million.
But concerns over underutilisation of the USF have always come up, including from the Auditor-General.
The push to utilise the fund had even become imperative given that the Zimbabwe dollar has been hit by hyperinflation, and it has been losing value at a terrific pace.
Insiders said the government was worried about developments on the exchange rate front.
Reports say at one point in 2010, only a year into its establishment, the USF had accumulated US$20 million in unused money.
In an interview with the Independent, one of the sacked board members, who requested to be anonymus, said he had been surprised by the move because all individual strategic plans had been submitted, in addition to the collective plan submitted by the board.
He said Muswere’s decision was open to question.
“All of us submitted the strategic plans, including those who were fired,” the member said.
“The minister needs to be asked point blank whether or not he received the plans. The secretary to the board confirmed sending the papers to the minister’s office,” the source added.
“Potraz has a strategic plan which was crafted with management in December 2020 in Mutare. What is so special about individual strategic plans? The issue of strategic plans was used as a scapegoat. After all, the minister should have dissolved the whole board. Why target three individuals? There is more than what meets the eye,” said the sacked board member.
Contacted for comment, one of the board members Nobert Mugwagwa said; “I am currently out of the country. As you know boards are appointed at the pleasure of the minister, rightly or wrongly, Minister Kazembe Kazembe (former ICT minister) appointed me and moved out,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Muswere were fruitless this week as he did not respond to calls and messages sent to his mobile phone.