Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
Telecel Zimbabwe yesterday got a reprieve to continue operating in the country after the High Court provisionally ordered the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe(Potraz) to reinstate the company’s operating licence pending an appeal to the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services.
The mobile phone company had approached the High Court seeking an order extending the time within which it may continue with its operations pending the determination of its appeal to Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira in terms of the Posts and Telecommunications Act.
The firm had been given 30 days to wind up operations.
It was expected that its more that two million subscribers would within that period migrate to other mobile phone service providers such as Econet and NetOne.
After hearing arguments from all the parties cited in the matter, Justice Nicholas Mathonsi ruled that the application was urgent.
Potraz lawyer Mr James Muzangaza confirmed the court ruling yesterday.
“The judge granted the application we were strenuously opposing,” said Mr Muzangaza.
The lawyer said the judge ruled that the matter was urgent and that the period stipulated by Potraz in its regulation determination was unreasonable.
“The net effect of Justice Mathonsi’s order is therefore that Telecel would be allowed to continue with its operations until such time the minister has determined its appeal,” said Mr Muzangaza.
He also said the judge indicated that he would give full reasons for his judgment next Wednesday.
Telecel’s basis for the application was that the time given by Potraz to wind up operations was grossly unreasonable.
The firm argued that it was not expected that the minister would determine the appeal within a short period. Potraz filed its submission in which the regulatory body argued that the case was not urgent. It contended that Telecel was given notice of intent to cancel the licence on March 5 2015.
It sought to oppose the urgent application on the grounds that Telecel should have been directly appealed to the minister.
When the hearing commenced, Telecel workers sent in a representative, a Mr Macheka, who applied to be joined as party in the proceedings arguing that workers have a direct and substantial interest in the case.
Mr Macheka indicated that Telecel employed 820 workers who stood to be prejudiced if the order by Potraz was allowed to stand as it is.
Advocate Firoz Girach instructed by Mr David Drury from Honey and Blackenberg argued the matter for Telecel. Last month Telecel moved to internationalise its dispute with the Government by approaching international jurisdictions.
The firm’s British lawyers – Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP – on April 29, wrote a letter to Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa threatening to take the matter before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes if it was not resolved amicably within six months.
The letter was copied to President Mugabe; Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Christopher Mushohwe; Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Mandiwanzira and Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe acting director-general Mr Baxton Sirewu.
The move was condemned by local analysts who accused Telecel of trying to subvert the local justice system.
On Wednesday Minister Mandiwanzira said Telecel’s decision to go to court was meant to allow it to launch an appeal against Potraz with him as the responsible minister. He said this in the National Assembly while responding to a question from Hurungwe Central MP Cde Godfrey Beremauro (Zanu-PF), who wanted an update on the saga.
Minister Mandiwanzira said since the matter was now before the courts, he could not comment substantively on the issue.