Lance Guma speaks to ITC Minister Nelson Chamisa

In February this year it was Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu who clashed with him over the telecoms sector, now Transport and Communications Minister Nicholas Goche has joined the fray.

Interview broadcast 17/09/09

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is Information, Communication Technology minister, Nelson Chamisa. Now those who have been following developments within his ministry will know that several attempts have been made by Zanu-PF to take the telecommunications sector away from his ICT ministry. Now these attempts began in February when first Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu sought to take the telecoms companies away. Now we hear the latest is that Transport and Communications minister, Nicholas Goche is attempting to do the same thing. Now I got the ball rolling by asking Mr Chamisa, what do you make of the current developments?

Nelson Chamisa: Well I’m also equally surprised, I thought the matter had been resolved by the principals but it would appear there still continues to be a problem particularly now with minister Goche claiming that he is also in charge of the functions I am supposed to be dealing with. You might remember that some time ago it was a case between my ministry and minister Shamu’s ministry and the problem seems to have migrated from minister Shamu’s ministry to the Transport and Infrastructure Development.

And the simple argument is that already the minister Goche has too much on his plate. He deals with Air Zimbabwe, he deals with ZINARA the roads there, he deals with CMED, he deals with Meteorology, he deals with DDF, all sorts of challenges, NRZ and that for somebody is quite too much and now with trying to get Net One, Tel One it’s even worse. So it’s quite tragic that we continue to have these challenges seven months after the inclusive government started operating, it’s quite an unfortunate development.

Guma: Now the frustrating thing of course for ordinary Zimbabweans is the demarcation lines are very clear who is supposed to be doing what even from the very naming of the ministries. Do you not think this is just a deliberate plot or ploy to just frustrate the MDC and to frustrate yourself?

Chamisa: Well it’s clear that it’s choreographed and scripted to try and muddy the waters, to make sure that the swimming that was quite smooth and good for the development of Zimbabwe is disturbed and destabilised. There’s no doubt that it’s also an attempt to try and make life difficult for ministers and ministries that are in the control or under the control and influence of the MDC.

But it is quite disappointing and I feel that MDC is basically a victim of Zanu-PF’s machinations and there’s no doubt that what is happening is not something that should be encouraged because if one then looks at the minister of ICT we are literally going to be left with nothing but maybe to serve the internet.

Guma: I’m just looking at press reports, they’re talking about you ordered a slashing of rates, or slashing of tariffs by Tel One and the ZBC apparently early in the morning were reporting and attributing the statement to yourself and then later in the afternoon they were forced to change and start attributing the statement to Goche. Can you maybe clarify the situation for us – what happened there?

Chamisa: Well I developed a paper on or around the 4th of June this year and I developed a paper, issued an instruction to Tel One and members of the public that I had suspended the disconnection of customers pending some kind of an investigation into the charges that were being levied by Tel One. In fact we wanted to come up with a scientific response in terms of the billing regime, you might remember that a lot of people were complaining about their bills so I took it upon myself as minister to then engage the operator, engage the customer through Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, also engage the regulator POTRAZ and we did that successfully.

We then took a paper to cabinet which paper was then supposed to be the new guidelines in terms of how bills were supposed to be rationalised, just like had been done with ZESA and other parastatals. To my surprise when I then presented the paper, then I did a press conference soon after the endorsement by my colleagues in government and of course that was it, but I then found Mr Goche being the voice behind what I had said and I was really shocked because I did the press conference, it was covered by virtually all journalists, ZBC included, Herald included, but only to work up in the morning when I was now reading the story it was now minister Goche speaking but certainly the content was mine, the paper was mine but it was now minister Goche.

Guma: A lot of people have made the observation that permanent secretary George Charamba seems to be wielding too much power, a lot of these things are coming through the Herald and the Sunday Mail and even things which are not government policy are passed through those two newspapers as if they were government policy. Is that a big challenge for the unity government?

Chamisa: Well I wouldn’t want to comment much about the workings of government unless if I was doing the same as a MDC spokesperson but let me just still try and be just to your question, there is definitely a challenge, a communication challenge arising out of certain elements trying to use politics to discredit others and also to build credit for others. But what I have emphasised is that the lives of the people should not be about points scoring or glory seeking or accolade seeking. We need to make sure that we respect the people; we serve the people faithfully without trying to look at the political scoreboard, to see who has scored on the basis of political partners which is the tragedy of some elements who want to see politics were there is none.

We are doing this thing for people and it’s not about individual glory, it’s not about partisan credit, it’s about the common good of our country and what is in the best interests of our country in the context of the very challenging global dynamics particularly from the ICT point of view. We need to link up to the undersea cable as we are speaking, we are lagging behind, we are still on 2G, second generation on technologies, others are already on 4G, 3G but we need to leapfrog and that leapfrogging is not going to come if we continue this whole matrix of shenanigans.

Guma: Now clearly you have two ministers gunning for sections of your

portfolio, Minister of Information Webster Shamu, minister of Transport Nicholas Goche, in terms of putting a stop to these problems because a lot of people had thought this issue had been resolved, what’s going to happen from here, how is this matter going to be tackled?

Chamisa: Well the matter is now back again in the hands of the principals and we hope that this matter will be solved as soon as possible because it’s really affecting a lot of our plans because you give an instruction with the right hand, there’s a left hand from another minister trying to take away so it’s really a train smash, its a dog’s breakfast.

Guma: In terms of the people at Tel One, what is it like for them? Do they have a scenario were, it must be a nightmare for them getting instructions from two or even three different ministries, how are they coping with this?

Chamisa: Tel One is the grass and when two elephants decide to either fight or enjoy it is the grass that suffers so I must say that I feel sorry for these operators because they have had to put up with a very conflicting position and it’s not easy to deal with two different colours, black and white and that’s what they have to deal with.

Guma: If I may ask you as an MDC spokesman Mr. Chamisa, the outstanding issues have remained outstanding for over seven months now. We have the issue of Roy Bennett, the governors, indeed your portfolio as ICT minister, what’s the feeling amongst your supporters? I’m just looking at some of the speeches at your Bulawayo rally and a lot of high profile people in the party seem to be despondent about the violations from Zanu-PF.

Chamisa: Oh well we have already said we can’t continue to have outstanding issues outstanding. We want to make sure that we deal with these issues with the finality they deserve and we have given a period of a month to consult with the people on the way forward. Of course a lot of people have criticised us for this consultative approach or model to decision making, they would want us to be decisive either in the wrong or right direction, we don’t believe that’s correct in a democracy. We need to make sure that we carry along the people of Zimbabwe, we want to check with them what they feel, what they want, is it really worth it, is it really sustainable for real change to be in this inclusive government.

This is what we have resolved to do, to go back to the people, ask the people what should be the direction, what should be the way forward. And I’ve no doubt that we’ll be able to emerge with a superior position and a clear way forward and that is what we are currently doing. We have also said we will continue knocking at SADC and AU’s doors as our guarantors and we’ll also continue to try and explain the logic and legitimacy of our issue and of our point. It’s not an MDC matter, it’s a national matter and therefore we need to make sure that African institutions appreciate their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

Guma: Your critics have pointed to the fact that your strategy relies too much on outside intervention from SADC and the AU. Is there anything that you could do outside lobbying those two organisations?

Chamisa: Well we have already said that, you will know that our winning of elections on the 29th of March, nobody in SADC was on the voters roll, neither was there anybody from the AU or from outside. It was the people of Zimbabwe, it was our strategies, we won this power we have, we want the platform that we have on the basis of effective strategies. We will continue to exploit those strategies to make sure that we emerge stronger for democracy and for a new Zimbabwe. So those critics obviously they are justified, we will respect their opinion but unfortunately they have the wrong end of the stick.

LG: That there was Information, Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa expressing his surprise at renewed attempts by Zanu-PF to usurp his control of the telecommunications sector. We of course tried to get the minister of Transport and Communications Nicholas Goche but we were not able on this occasion but we will continue trying to get the minister who in this case is clashing with Chamisa over the communications portfolio and get his reaction.

Well that does it for Behind the Headlines, many thanks for minister Chamisa for joining us on the programme.

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