(Ecofin Agency) - The unpaid telephone bill that TelOne, Zimbabwe's incumbent telecom operator, is claiming from the government has reached $2.6 million as of March 31. According to the company's financial report for the first quarter of 2021, this amount represents more than 60% of the total debt owed to TelOne, which now stands at $4.3 million.
TelOne says the money owed by the government is weighing on its cash flow and operations. The company is increasingly facing financial difficulties that prevent it from paying its main service providers and meeting its various obligations. A situation that exposes TelOne to a new penalty from the Tax Authority, which had served it with an $8.9 million fine in 2018 for late settlement of its tax obligations.
The government's unpaid bills to TelOne are mounting at a bad time for the company, which is in dire need of cash to remain competitive in the national telecom market. Demand for connectivity has exploded across the country and the mobile financial payments segment is also gaining in value. But the state-owned company has no money to expand its network to meet the need.
Competitors Econet Wireless and Telecel are already scrambling to position themselves in these segments. TelOne estimates that it will need to invest $25 million each year for the next five years to strengthen its network and achieve quality national coverage. Otherwise, it still risks losing market share and may even be denied services by its service providers, to whom it already owed $18 million in 2018.