The exact ownership structure of Telecel Zimbabwe, still remains obscure to many, following the exit of Vimpelcom, the former controlling shareholder, last year. Hence, this may also be another contributing factor to its unsatisfactory performance lately in a competitive market where Econet Wireless dominates the market share and also having recently been overtaken by NetOne to now become third in ranking in Zimbabwe’s telecoms sector.
What may also come as a surprise to many is that the Government has not yet received its 60 percent shareholding in Telecel International which it acquired from Dutch company Vimpelcom, as it has not made full payment.
In 2016, the government announced that it had reached an agreement with Vimpelcom to acquire its entire shareholding in Telecel International for $40 million.
The deal, which had dragged on since 2014 when Vimpelcom announced its intentions to exit Zimbabwe, resulted in the government taking control of the country’s smallest mobile operator in which Telecel International had a 60 percent shareholding.
The remaining 40 percent is owned by Empowerment Corporation, a group of local investors.
Information, Communication Technology Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said the shares would only be transferred once full payment was made to Vimpelcom.
“Out of the $40 million we were only able to pay a fraction of it because of the shortage of forex. The balance we agreed with the sellers that we put in an escrow account with Barclays Bank in Zimbabwe where the money is,” he said.
“About $18 million is still pending and being held in an escrow account by Barclays Bank Zimbabwe. They (Vimpelcom) will only release the shares to us until that money is repatriated to them.”
Mandiwanzira defended the government decision to acquire Telecel.
“We could see that this thing (Telecel) was headed for collapse. It is our business as a Ministry to promote the growth of the industry and to protect jobs in the industry, so this intervention was very positive,” he said.
However, confusion has been reigning supreme lately over the exact ownership structure of Telecel Zimbabwe, following the exit of Vimpelcom last year.
This came amid indications that businessman Dr James Makamba, who returned from self-exile recently was angling to reclaim his footing in the mobile telecoms firm, despite allegedly losing his shareholding to a consortium led by lawyer Gerald Mlotshwa and businessman, George Manyere.
While Dr Makamba and businesswoman Dr Jane Mutasa are believed to be the only remaining active members of Empowerment Corporation, initially a multi-member indigenous lobby group which was awarded the licence by Government in 1998, there has been squabbling between the members over ownership in recent years.
Market intelligence also suggests a potential wrangle lurks in the horizon over the legitimacy of the transaction that saw Vimpelcom selling its 60 percent stake in Telecel Zimbabwe to Zarnet, as EC was not accorded their possible right of first refusal.
Until Vimpelcom sold, Telecel had largely remained foreign-controlled, an allowed departure from rules that locals own at least 60 percent of telecommunications firms although the original deal was that local ownership would gradually increase to the laid-down minimum.
According to Minister Mandiwanzira Telecel required at least $30 million in new capital.