“Airtime yese iripo . . . Net One 800paDollar, Telecel 750 paDollar, Buddie 650 paDollar . . .”
Well, such is one common line of advertisement distinctly decipherable above the chaos and din of the jostling City of Harare. To and every concerned citizen, the natural course of wonder questions the deliberate cause of the wide disparity in exchange rates between the local currency and the greenback dollar.
And yes, it can only be deliberate somehow. How else can similar service packages (airtime) of distinctly different prices in local currency value trade at a compulsory price in foreign currency, the US dollar? If as patriotic citizens particularly concerned with the economic well-being of our nation, and if as a result we duly recognise and respect our state institutions — in this respect the Central Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe — then our nationalist conscience would be disturbed why and how such twisted commerce should exist within our economic systems.
That our RBZ pegs current exchange rate $690 to the dollar, and that none of the Networks’ retail price conforms to this may only point out to the existence — somewhere, somehow along the business chain — of a causative factor strongly suggestive of some form/s of anarchy.
Admittedly, zeroing in on the exact source of the problem can be as roundly difficult as trying to pinpoint any one particular cardinal point from the perch of a merry-go-round at full swing. For the reason that network providers can never be expected to overcharge their airtime sales — not in any way explicitly in conflict with RBZ monetary policy—it would quite apparently seem they’re also blameless for the confusion in the retail pricing.
Interestingly though, the biggest problem with the pricing challenge is fact that it arises and spreads — either by design or complicity of influence — rather indiscriminately across the entire spectrum of the business chain. If we should take a definitive look at the structural machinations of the business chain in question we shall always find that no stage is immune to blame, not even the end-users themselves!
Okay, we have here the producers of service, the network providers who also ply the wholesale trade. Next after them we have the retailers, who sometimes double up as wholesalers as well. Lastly we have the end-users, the consumers of service.
True, market price is normally driven by factors of demand and supply.
Scarcity of a service/commodity will inevitably drive its price up — it’s well understood and understandable that.
It is also very much understood that vendors are not the most scrupulous breed in the business game; presented with opportunity they tend to become opportunistic, ever-ready to maximise turnover by inflating price. But certain circumstances must prevail first to permit profiteering, and normally it’s all to do with demand and supply. Comparative to our case-study, however, what’s not understandable- rather far from the norm- is a double scenario of anomalies.
One, airtime service packages are never in short supply; vouchers are virtually everywhere and easily accessible whenever needed.
Second, and rather most phony indeed, it begs answers why airtime prices should be differentiated on account of provider? If the profiteering tendency of retailers/vendors should be believed as the sole cause of the airtime sales exchange rate variation, then one common overpricing margin, however, exorbitant would laterally apply across all three networks.
But as this not being the case logic may only conclude existence of certain other underlying forces of influence (rather of a contractual nature) between producer and consumer; subtle nuances of influence originating from producers’ modi operandi and by whose prevalence (or rather pre-determinism) our manipulative retail sector is readily finding opportunity to overcharge and profiteer.
So, for the objective reason of pinpointing the exact cause of the overall problem, it should be imperative to summarily set aside middlemen and inherent corruptible behaviour and focus instead at the dynamism of business relationship between producer and consumer.
If it’s true, as is generally understood commerce-wise, that consumers will always go for best value for their money then apparently it should also be possible to deduce comparison on the competence of the three network providers. Compared, Econet would — quite apparently — top a notch above fellow competitors. Retailing at one US dollar for $650 airtime, and yet with consumers nonetheless finding it worthwhile, the producer would seem to offer the best wireless communication service unparalleled by the rest.
Furthermore, for somehow realising such an exchange rate the network provider also seems somewhat ever-striving harder-than-thou to endorse and sustain better value for the local currency.
On the other end Net One would seem to fit the exact opposite of Econet. Eight hundred bond airtime for a dollar points out to poor service competency. And for the service being cheap the price becomes too costly for the value of our currency, the bond note.
But, well, that’s just face-value deduction, and face-value deductions seldom sum up hidden truth. Like in this particular case finding the factual truth about the business integrity of our three networks can be trice as tricky as trying to determine the correct, token bottle-cap juggled in that sleight-of-hand deal by that ubiquitous street trickster.
Fact is, when critically analysed all the ostensible truth turns out factually false. For instance, reason that we’re having retail price variation on airtime sales has nothing whatsoever to do with service competence per se.
Rather it has everything to do with the indiscriminate free-play which network providers here in Zimbabwe are exercising.
Thanks to yesteryear Government oversight network providers are today operating and running a service package of critical national interest which — practically considering our current economic standing — should otherwise never have been extended to free-enterprise in the first place. This package is none else, but virtual currency service.
As it turns out today the indiscriminate operation of virtual currency service not only creates unfair completion practices among stakeholders but worst of all the practice itself literally runs on a collision course with economic welfare of state. And this latter form of collusion — highly unacceptable as it should never be allowed — is highlighted none the better than in the opportunistic manner of company Econet.
In deed it is never a coincidence that Econet airtime should become more susceptible to price manipulation at a time when EcoCash has proliferated far much better than the virtual currencies of the other two network providers combined.
Of course the evolution of technology and the convenience IT brings at the present and the foreseeable future may never fail to inspire.
As it stands virtual currency is proving one hell of a good service, so much that possibility of the widely anticipated so-called “cashless society” is no longer that far-fetched. (My beloved octogenarian grandmother is so adept at using EcoCash!)
But as virtual currency quickly takes over the grand stage transacting global commerce world governments, more especially of developing economies like ours, need to apply caution and prudence when formulating policies.
Telecommunication policies should be discriminate enough to starve off collusion with national interests and yet flexible enough to harness and tap the advantages of this revolutionary age of the cyberspace into national development plans.
With no precedent for cross-reference, government’s capability to keep tabs on Tech will largely depend on its resourceful ability to formulate policies (digital communication protocols) just as fast as IT develops, if not faster!
Failure to do so we shall always be exposed to the risk of sinking our economy rather unwittingly into ideological orders very much incompatible with national dreams.
True, the New Dispensation has thus far done quite a lot towards realising the inspired dream of a New Republic. Fundamental pillars of the economy have seen considerable restoration. The land resource has had much better utilisation than before.
Farming and mining production have seen a boost. Grand schemes like construction of dams for irrigation, power plants and processing plants for mineral ores have been undertaken and deployed towards economic recovery.
Main highways connecting major cities and neighbouring countries are presently being revamped to top-notch condition never seen ever since national borders were drawn.
Food security is a sealed deal (with the hunger and famine of yesteryear who could have thought today we’d have, say, proudly Zimbabwean cooking oil way much cheaper than imports from South Africa and Botswana?).
And most importantly public order has been reinstated, with fear of human rights abuse successfully instilled into consciousness of the mass; — thanks to President’s administration the election process is peaceful like never before. For that we salute him.
Yet beyond all these commendable steps so far taken by the Government towards resuscitating traditional economy the new world of Tech still awaits leadership attention.
With particular regard to the operation of virtual currency our Tech industry has already strayed rather too far for national good. The rise of Econet through its virtual currency package, EcoCash, is today holding consumers at ransom.
Spurred on by the evil of economic embargoes which has primed and corrupted national conscience towards easy tolerance of the sanctimonious idea of self-sacrifice for survival, consumers today would rather buy overpriced Econet airtime just to retain the convenience of using EcoCash.
Sadly, and thanks mostly for it being under private ownership and, therefore, operating away from the organisational scope of central government, the use of the now vital service EcoCash lacks proper enforcement, so much that the public can decide willy-nilly the exchange rate, too often at extreme detriment to the stability of local currency value.
Thus, having flourished as common medium of exchange, EcoCash not only gives people buying power, but the ultimate power to determine value of local currency as well. Consequently, it is our bond note that takes the fall, and our economy that takes the impact.
Of course well-developed economies like the United States can afford free enterprise of that particular sort, even to the extreme degree of privatising their central bank! On the other hand, non-capitalist economies like Sweden are already a step ahead in realising the so-called cashless society, a process which they are largely implementing through private sector participation.
But quite unlike them both Zimbabwe’s leap in using virtual currency has been bourne of expedience by disaster as opposed to choice by readiness.
This perhaps is also reason why, in a desperate attempt to forge monetary coherence, government has gone half-cocked adopting and adapting postal and telecommunications policy.
Hence the paradox of it is always highlighted by fact that it is the disadvantaged economy of Zimbabwe that should today trail-blaze a technological evolution which for most of the world will almost certainly follow tomorrow.
But as a third world economy largely dependent on its land resource Zimbabwe can’t really afford the extreme dose of capitalism as America does.
And due to lack of proper structures for business integrity management and political risk control neither can we really start to pretend following the advanced, Socialist Swedes.
By the nature of our economic lifeblood and political heartthrob only absolute control of the vital sections of economy can lend vitality to national growth.
Privately-owned companies can diversify their businesses as much as they can, even establish and run their own pan-African banks, fine, but taking overall charge of medium of exchange is just too deep waters for them to prowl. Dispensation of national medium of exchange — in whatever conceivable form — should solely remain the duty of Government, simple!
For otherwise if the vultures of the corporate world reign over national duty in such a manner the end result is subjugation of Government authority and power.
As already proven by the failure of ESAP negligible state control over the economy is disastrous. One thing the Government should realise is that there is no constructive cause whatsoever to justify reason assigning a profit-driven, private entity the duty to clean up the tatters of national despair.
The fallacy becomes more like assigning someone the vital duty of extinguishing runaway fires for a commissioned fee when at the same time that very someone is in a position to commit arson.
Possible risk is the high probability of business logic taking over in its raw form of greedy and selfishness. Inclination may easily be found by one to expand profit margins by simply exacerbating the despair. And there is no worse futile scenario in risk control than when the fireman doubles up as a serial arsonist!
So, comrades, if we should succeed in maintaining and safeguarding our commitment to a true Zimbabwe, good for all Zimbabweans then it’s time we should start nurturing and calibrating our policies to fit perfectly the situation on the ground.
It’s a good thing to have Zimbabwe open for business, but there should always be exceptions. Like postulated by one polymath American Economist, professor Ha-Joon Chan in his expose, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, privatisation of critical industries and vital business practices is never good for developing economies like ours.
Open for business as we are, Capitalism we may approach and entertain, but certainly with a barge pole. Otherwise extreme levels of it we must just leave for neo-liberal corporate America.
Failure of which — God forbid — we’ll soon have our central bank taken over by jacketed tycoons and their conglomerates. And once our economic nucleus is infiltrated and corrupted to such degree the infection will spread and soon enough all hell will break loose.
The balance between politics and economics will trip. The moneymen will wield ultimate power. Big business interests will play power-behind-the-crown, reducing national leadership to a mere puppet of the corporate sector.
Next we might as well have the dispensation of title deeds for commercial land, a wrong turn which will establish and consolidate dynastic cartels (check the cowboys of Texas for example) — dynastic cartels which will take further charge of national leadership power!
And guess all this merely for want of convenience; convenience which we still can safely attain if only we should first put our house Zimbabwe in order.
At this dire juncture where we’re ever-persevering to bring back on feet our crippled, sabotaged economy (what with lacking our own permanent currency recognisable on the international market, the use of multi-currency and all!) legislative duty remains with leadership to empower Potraz with the necessary tools to restrict and suspend the operation of virtual currency service from private enterprise, at least up till that time when Zimbabwe has own true currency to nullify the valuation risk articulated by a multi currency economy.
Pray-tell, insofar as virtual currency is concerned Zimbabwe needs just one money, One Money!