By Nyasha Chingono
INFORMATION Communication Technology Minister Supa Mandiwanzira has expressed disquiet over Econet Wireless’ dominance of the country’s mobile money payments system saying this exposed the country to risk, should the largest telecommunications firm’s systems fail.
Mobile payments have grown in importance since banknote shortages intensified in the first quarter of 2016.
Econet, the largest of the three mobile network operators in the country, has a huge share of the mobile payment market through its Ecocash platform, which processed $7,1 billion transactions between March 2016 and February 2017.
Mobile phone-based platforms give subscribers the ability to send and receive money, pay bills and settle transactions, among other transactions.
Apart from providing convenience in a country battling a shortage of physical cash, mobile payment systems also help raise levels of financial inclusion.
Ecocash’s rivals have a combined market share of less than two percent in the mobile payments segment.
“Ninety percent of the transactions are being controlled by one mobile network. That is a disaster,” Mandiwanzira said at a mobile payments conference held in Harare last week.
“It may be a commercial success but it’s a disaster if we look at it from a public sector point of view. What happens if that system fails at a critical moment? That means we have disrupted the entire nation because we have relied on one supplier,” he said.
He said government, which recently took over a 60 percent stake in Telecel Zimbabwe, would increase its stake in the mobile telecommunications firm to allow the company to aggressively push its own mobile money payment platform, Telecash, in order to break Ecocash’s stranglehold.
He acknowledged Telecash had failed to make a mark in the mobile money space.
Government wholly-owns another mobile telecommunications operator NetOne, whose own mobile payment service is also struggling to gain a foothold in the market.
Mandiwanzira said government had empowered the Postal, Telecommunications, Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to punish mobile network providers who over charge for mobile payments.
“We almost have a monopoly so they think they can do whatever they want. We have encouraged the regulator, Potraz to really deal with some of these monopolistic tendencies. We have encouraged the regulator here to really show its teeth because most of the operators here are getting away with airtime disappearing,” Mandiwanzira said.
He said government, through Potraz, would fine telecommunication network providers charging exorbitant fees.
“We really need to start fining these operators. The regulator is working on going in hard on operators abusing consumers. The costs are unjustified — the costs are just for a text message, there is nothing sophisticated about that bank alerts,” said Mandiwanzira, referring to charges for text messages generated after transactions.
“You cannot hold an asset that you were given by government through a license and think that it is entirely yours. Others must access what you have built but they should do so at a fee, a reasonable fee. That is the message we have given to Econet, Netone and Telecel. You own the frequency to the extent of your license but we can also tell you what to do,” he said.