BY MOSES MATENGA
Government has imposed one of its ailing parastatals, NetOne, to exclusively manage the transfer of millions of dollars meant to cushion vulnerable populations against the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged.But some of the beneficiaries have vowed to resist the move, preferring to use their Ecocash accounts.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration recently declared the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak — which has already killed close to 70 000 people worldwide in slightly more than three months — a national disaster and decreed a 21-lockdown from March 30.
Government announced at the commencement of the lockdown that it had reserved $600 million (US$24 million) in cash transfers for vulnerable groups that include informal traders, and is disbursing an initial $90 million (US$3.6 million) from this week.
However, a snap investigation by The Standard, working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, an anti-corruption non-profit outfit, revealed signs that the government could be manipulating the fund to rescue NetOne by directing that all the money to intended beneficiaries be transferred through the telecommunications’ mobile cash facility.
Beneficiaries are expected to receive $200 per head, translating to US$8 at the fixed bank rate, but US$5 on the black market, during the weekend.
The first disbursement is planned to reach 450 000 people.
The fund is being run under the Labour and Social Welfare ministry, which is targeting a million beneficiaries.
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It emerged, however, that most of the likely beneficiaries were using a different mobile money transfer facility, Ecocash, owned by Econet Zimbabwe banner and the intended recipients could lose out on the disbursements if they do not migrate to NetOne’s One Wallet.
According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, NetOne processed only 1.1% of the total mobile money transactions in 2019, while Econet handled more than 98%.
The third telecoms company, Telecel, another government parastatal, made a “very negligible” contribution, according to the authority.
Potential beneficiaries are also worried that the registration process has been politicised amid signs that authorities were favouring ruling Zanu PF card-holders.
This publication gathered that Zanu PF officials were last week in Epworth on the outskirts of Harare and Hopley in the capital, mobilising party supporters to register, amid speculation that the ruling party was planning to interfere with the cash transfer programme.
Senior government officials confirmed that the cash transfer opportunity had been given to NetOne.
Small to Medium Enterprises Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni justified imposing NetOne, which she argued attracted less transfer charges than Ecocash. “They [beneficiaries] need to address that [issue of which facility to use] themselves because if you are aware, Econet is very expensive and NetOne charges are very low,” Nyoni said.
“It is for their own good so that they make the best of their money.
“It is not very difficult to register… just a dollar to get a NetOne line.
“No one is saying they should not use Ecocash, but for this one, it is NetOne.
“That money is being administered by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, and it is going to be used for the vulnerable including the informal sector, which has been surviving from hand-to-mouth and has its source of income affected (by the lockdown),” she added.
She accused unnamed people of spreading fake news relating to the cash transfer facility for selfish benefit.
“There are some people who have been circulating statements and asking people to register through their own lines, which would dupe the SMEs because we don’t know who they are and what they are going to do with those names.
“Let the public be alerted that they should register through legitimate government structures,” she added.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima also justified the controversial imposition of the state-owned company, saying they were issuing NetOne mobile phone lines to those that were registering as beneficiaries.
Mavima said: “As we register, we give them a NetOne line. We have entered into an agreement with NetOne such that when they [beneficiaries] get a line, they also get a card they can use to swipe.
“We made a policy decision that people will be helped. I don’t have details now on how many people have registered.
“People will get $200 each, so if it is a family of four, they get $800. I am sure that they [ministry staff] should be starting disbursements next [this] week,” Mavima added.
“The initial allocation that had come is $90 million, but we anticipate getting additional resources because we are targeting as much as a million people to begin with.
“So far I am sure that $90 million is capable of covering 450 000 people.”
Informal traders are not amused with the NetOne facility and vowed to resist it, describing it as “scandalous”.
Samuel Wadzanai, director of the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation, said government had rushed the registration process.
“This was a hurried process and there was no clarity in terms of the requirements by the ministry,” Wadzanai said.
“They bunched the social welfare element together with the informal sector facility.
“There is no clarity on who is doing the selection process and the vetting.
“We have been requested to update our databases, which we have done.
“We have submitted them, but we don’t know who is going to decide who gets money and who doesn’t.
“We would have wanted to be involved in those processes so that we can be able to explain to those who would not have benefited why they did not benefit.”
He said his membership would resist registering with NetOne.
“That is unacceptable. We were never told that we must register with NetOne only,” Wadzanai added.
“What we know for a fact is that more than 90% of people who registered use their Ecocash lines because that’s what the majority of people are using.”
Migrating to NetOne would delay the registration process as people starved, he added.
“If government wants to help the vulnerable as it is claiming, the only logical thing to do is to use a facility known to and used by many,” said one informal trader who accused the government of capitalising on the Covid-19 crisis to boost its own parastatal’s market share.
Because of its low market share, NetOne’s One Wallet facility is not accessible in non-urban areas.