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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 21 - 2012
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
May 24, 2012

Introduction

The Minister of Media Information and Publicity, Hon. Webster Shamu appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Media Information and Communication Technology to update the Committee on progress regarding the implementation of media reforms in the country. The Portfolio Committee on Small and Medium Enterprises received oral evidence from the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), Dr. Gideon Gono on the regulatory framework that governs the financial services sector as it relates to the small and medium enterprises in the country.

Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology

In his update the Committee, Minister Shamu began by apologizing to the Committee for taking so long to appear before the Committee saying this was due to official commitments elsewhere.

Reading from his prepared speech, Hon. Shamu told the Committee that media reforms in the country, in particular the liberalization of the airwaves was necessitated by the Supreme Court Ruling of 2000 which ended the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporations (ZBC) broadcasting monopoly in the country. He said the Supreme Court ruling created a legal vacuum and to deal with the situation, Presidential Powers had to be invoked and hence the Broadcasting Service Regulations were enacted. When the Broadcasting Service Regulations expired, a substantive legislation was enacted in 2001, namely; the Broadcasting Services Act [Chapter 12:06]. It is this Act that paved the way for the licensing of new broadcasters and the creation of the regulatory body, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which was mandated among other things with the management of frequency spectrum and licensing of would-be broadcasters.

The Minister said BAZ conducted a national survey study in June 2003 to determine broadcast priorities of the country. He said the survey report revealed that in terms of radio priorities, Zimbabweans preferred the following categories of radios services in order of their priority;

  • National Radio Public Broadcaster
  • National Public Television
  • National Private Television,
  • National Private Radio
  • Local community Radio
  • Local Private Radio

Hon. Shamu informed the Committee that the survey report also emphasized an overwhelming wish for local content in terms of programming.

In short, the Minister said the current media reforms in the electronic sector were guided by the survey report which BAZ conducted in 2003. However, the pace of the implementation has been hamstrung by lack of adequate financial resources with which to develop the necessary broadcasting infrastructure.

The Committee heard that BAZ’s inaugural invitation for both national television and radio licenses application in 2004, attracted only one application for TV licence and 4 applications for radio were received. However, all of them were not successful due to the stringent conditions prescribed by the law then. He said the law has since been relaxed through the Broadcasting Services Amendment Act of 2007 and the constitutional amendment No. 19, which gave more impetus to the licensing of more radio and TV players.

Regarding the composition and the appointment of the BAZ Board, which has been one of the thorny issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), Hon. Shamu told the Committee that the appointment was done lawfully. He even read out a letter alleged signed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Lovemore Moyo and the President of the Senate, Hon. Edna Madzongwe recommending nominees of the Standing Rules and Orders Committee to the BAZ Board. He further vowed to resist any instruction to reconstitute the BAZ Board from whatever quarter as long the Broadcasting Services Act has not been amended to reflect new procedures of appointment for the BAZ Board. In inference, he said the platform of the Monday Meetings by the Party Principals was a political platform not a government forum.

On skewed public media coverage, the ZBC Chief Executive, Happison Muchechetere said coverage was based on the diary of events they received from ministries. He said some ministries were not submitting their diary of events to the ministry of information hence the reason why such events were not covered. In terms of political activities of parties, he said some parties were hostile to their journalists as a result they found it difficult to cover such political events. On the same issue, the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity George Charamba told the Committee that his ministry only handled media coverage requests to do with government businesses. He said to the end, his ministry has never received any complaints from Ministers regarding public media coverage of the activities of their respective ministries. He further told the Committee that with respect to the coverage of political activities, the ZBC Chief Executive uses his discretion as to which events to cover. Mr. Charamba also informed the Committee that during the election period, ZBC’s coverage of political activities is under the direction of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC).

Regarding hate speech in the public media, Minister Shamu said this was not only confined to the public media but the private media as well. He said government was very concerned with this and government was in the process of drafting legislation to address this problem.

Later to appear before the Committee was BAZ representatives led by its Chairman Dr. Tafataona Mahoso. Dr. Mahoso said the criteria for the issuance of radio and TV licenses to prospective licencees were prescribed in the Broadcasting Services Act. He dismissed claims by Hot Media (KISS FM), one of the losing applicants, that the adjudicating process was not fair as a case of sour grapes.

Regarding the frequency spectrum that the country has for national radio stations, the BAC Chief Executive informed the Committee Zimbabwe was allocated 6 slots by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), of which 4 were already occupied by ZBC’s 4 radio stations leaving 2 stations, which were recently awarded to AB Communications and Talk Radio, respectively. He said BAZ has invited applications for 14 community radio stations for now, though the country has 31 slots for this category. He said Zimbabwe could not increase the number of slots as the frequency spectrum allocated to each country was controlled by the afore-mentioned international body.

He said while the TV frequency spectrum was currently limited due to the analogue system, there were future prospects for more slots once the country moves to the digital system.

Portfolio Committee on Small and Medium Enterprises

RBZ Governor Gono highlighted to the Committee that 70% of Zimbabweans lived in rural areas and the better part of this population falls under the Small and Medium Enterprises category. He argued that the sustainability of the SME welfare is of great importance as the welfare of SMEs is intricately linked to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.)

The RBZ Governor noted that the biggest challenge to the SMEs was a fragmented legal framework which raises costs of establishing a business. He said there was need for a comprehensive SMEs policy.

Dr. Gono informed the Committee that in an effort to promote financial inclusion and ensure access to finance by SMEs, a number of banking institutions have established SME divisions or units to provide capacity building and financial services to SMEs. He revealed to the Committee that US$164,3 million translating to 5.95% of total loans in the sector were extended to the SMEs. The Governor however, singled out Barclays Bank as one bank that has offered no loans towards the SMEs in the country.

Bank Charges were noted as the major impediment to the informal sector’s ability to deposit their funds. Dr Gono highlighted that the bank charges issue has been of major concern to both the policy-makers and the public and hence the issue was receiving attention from the authorities. He informed the Committee that he has discussed this issue with the Minister of Finance and a conclusion will be announced latest two weeks from today.

Dr Gono said the SMEs should take advantage of the Indigenization Programme currently underway through the Equity Approach and Supply Side Approach. On the Supply side approach, he believes in an approach where most SMEs can be contracted by the big companies to supply inputs or parts for the production of end goods.

Dr Gono informed the Committee that RBZ licenced 18 out of 20 banking institutions to conduct cell-phone banking, which will see most unbanked population of Zimbabwe being able to access financial services. This will greatly assist the SMEs sector to do their financial transactions without hassles.

On the concern by the Committee regarding micro-finance institutions who were in the habit of auctioning properties of bad debtors, the RBZ Governor said such institutions should be reported to the central bank for appropriate action to be taken.

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