Fleecing by Zesa to continue

HARARE - Fleecing by Zesa to continueThe re-introduction of pre-paid meters by Zesa Holdings (Zesa) has been touted in reports in the state media as a panacea to the persistent problems that consumers have expressed disgruntlement about for ages.

An analysis of the facts, however, shows clearly that nothing could be further from the truth.

The re-introduction of the meters, which were only phased out a few years ago, once again as stop-gap measure, is in all respects a well calculated move.

It is a strategy designed to enable Zesa and its subsidiary company, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) to dodge addressing and tackling the systemic weaknesses besetting its operations while taking maximum advantage of the shortcomings to continue fleecing consumers.

As a matter of fact, the name of the Zesa’s subsidiary company, from which the word supply has been exorcised, says it all.

ZETDC is not concerned about supplying the commodity but dreaming up ways of distributing the financial burden of deficient service delivery among hapless and long-suffering consumers.

When he officially launched the pre-paid meter programme about two weeks ago, Energy and Power Development minister, Elton Mangoma acknowledged that Zesa was not fulfilling its mandate to supply adequate power for the nation.

“Zimbabwe has been experiencing power shortfalls since 1997 as a result of a lack of additional capacity against a background of increased load growth across all sectors in the economy”, he said.

The minister admitted that the power deficit resulted in “massive load shedding” as Zesa tries to balance supply and demand.

This is the crux of the matter, which cannot be masked by stop-gap measures such as these new meters.

The problem of the power utility’s inability to meet demand has remained unresolved for the last 15 years.

And yet throughout that time, there has been no let-up in tariff increases and the issuing of almost extortionist bills to consumers.

This has sparked a national outcry to which Zesa has steadfastly turned a deaf ear.

The question to ask is what happened to all the revenue collected over this period.

Despite all the hardships experienced by consumers there has never been an attempt on Zesa’s part to downsize its wage bill and has continued to employ armies of meter readers, engineers, technicians, sales managers etc.

Not to mention its over-staffed debt collection section.

Debt collection rather than electricity supply seems to have become this organisation’s core business.

Minister Mangoma and ZETDC must accept that the latest pre-paid meters will not solve long-standing problems and consumers will not in any way be better off as is being suggested.

Instead, they are lumped with additional financial demands so that Zesa can raise the money to pay for the so-called smart meters.

A cursory look at some amounts paid by consumers on the new system shows they will pay additional levies including such fictions as “rural electrification”.

Now, where on earth is any rural electrification being undertaken?

Something could be happening in selected areas where influential politicians come from, but I have not seen any movement in my rural area for many years.

This is generally true of many other parts of the country. Is this levy just not a means for Zesa to achieve the same financial targets it has set itself on the existing billing system?

Zesa always makes a big issue of the claim that it is owed astronomical amounts in unpaid bills.
The power company needs to explain how it can be owed so much for a commodity that is not available to customers most of the time.

On the day he officially launched the pre-paid meter programme, Mangoma said: “There will be no need for meter readers to get into your houses and consumers will not receive hefty and frightening bills.”

There could be no clearer admission that consumers are being fleeced through the existing billing system.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed once and for all so that billing is fair and in tandem with consumption.

Without tackling this problem it is obvious that mechanisms built into the old system to overcharge consumers will be worked into the prepaid meter system too.

“This initiative is in recognition of the hardships being faced by our consumers and hopefully will go some way in alleviating their plight,” said Mangoma, who also announced the halting of Zesa’s ruthless disconnections of electricity to consumers overwhelmed by its exorbitant bills.

Consumers have nothing to celebrate or heave a collective sigh of relief about.

Zesa has only stopped power disconnections after saddling struggling consumers with “payment plans” to clear fictional debts based on those hefty and frightening bills minister Mangoma referred to.

If there had been any genuine consideration of the consumers’ plight, it would have been shown by a willingness to adjust the exorbitant bills that have caused a national outcry.

The frenzied period of power disconnections prior to the launching of pre-paid meters was designed to ensure that Zesa made a killing before feigning sympathy for its victims.

Now in addition to paying for the new gadgets, consumers are stuck with paying debts they have vehemently disputed.

The bills that resulted in the accruing of these debts were based on estimates that assumed consumers had access to electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This is daylight robbery. The half-truth has also been touted that consumers will now have control of their electricity usage.

It is impossible to have control over a commodity that is not available most of the time.

Zesa must not use the new meters to dodge addressing the perennial issues of its inability to meet demand and its failure to put a fair, transparent billing system in place.

Most importantly Zesa must reconsider its resort to consumer exploitation through heavy-handed methods to mask its failures.

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