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THE government has increased licence fees for mobile phone companies by 80 percent to US$180 million in a decision that may be linked to the country's scramble to raise funding for elections expected later this year.

“The Ministry of Transport, Communication and Infrastructure will, from 30 June 2013, issue new 15-year licences under the Converged Licensing Framework at a fee of US$180 million,” Finance Minister Tendai Biti told reporters in Harare early this week.

The decision will immediately hit Econet Wireless and Telecel Zimbabwe whose licences are said to be due for renewal in June while the state-run NetOne has another year before it must pay the increased fee.

According to the Herald newspaper, Biti said the licensing revenue “would be leveraged in support of some of the financial requirements of both referendum and election programmes”.

Zimbabweans are set to vote on a draft new constitution this Saturday while elections to choose a substantive government are expected later in the year.

While funding for the constitutional referendum has been raised locally, the government has appealed for international support with the general elections.

“As far as elections are concerned there is a real challenge. Things are excruciatingly tight,” Biti said last weekend. “The support of the international community is critical.”

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai added Tuesday: “While acknowledging the tremendous efforts being made towards raising financial resources to fund the referendum and the elections, the (GPA) principals appreciate that domestic resources will not be enough and it is necessary to seek external support through the UNDP.

“After further discussions on the UNDP’s terms of reference, the Ministers of Finance and Justice have been mandated to communicate with the UNDP with a view to kick-starting the process.

“We therefore expect a Needs Assessment Mission to visit the country soon after the referendum because time is of the essence.”



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