HARARE, July 15 (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s government has been offered telecoms group Vimpelcom’s 60 percent stake in its local unit Telecel but the government does not have the money to buy the shares, the ICT minister said on Wednesday.
Telecel is the southern African country’s smallest mobile telephone operator. In April its licence was cancelled by the telecoms regulator but was temporarily restored weeks later after the company went to court.
ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira told parliament that Empowerment Corporation, a grouping of local shareholders who own 40 percent in Telecel, had also offered to sell their stake to the government along with Vimpelcom.
“Vimpelcom offered to the government of Zimbabwe their 60 percent. At the same time …. Empowerment Corporation also wrote to the government offering to sell their 40 percent to the government,” Mandiwanzira said.
“As you may be aware, the government doesn’t have enough resources to be financing that kind of transaction,” he said, without citing any figure for the value of the stake in question.
Earlier on Wednesday, Telecel officials said they were not aware of the offer by Vimpelcom.
Mandiwanzira said Vimpelcom had initially found a foreign buyer for its stake but President Robert Mugabe’s government had blocked the transaction. He did not give details.
Mandiwanzira said the little known state-owned internet service provider ZARNet would, however, pursue discussions with a view to acquire Vimpelcom’s stake in Telecel. He did not say how ZARNet would buy the shares.
Econet Wireless is Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone operator while government-owned NetOne is the second biggest. Two other state-owned telecoms companies own licences to provide mobile phone services but have failed to do so because they do not have the money. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Tom Heneghan)