ZIMBABWE – Zesa is working on a debt recovery strategy to pin consumers, including “bigwigs”, who owe the power utility $1 billion in unpaid bills, Energy and Power Development Minister Dr Samuel Undenge said yesterday.
Addressing journalists in Harare, Dr Undenge called on the Zesa management to improve on efficiency or be kicked out.
He said Zesa was not a charity organisation and everyone had to honour electricity obligations regardless of status.
“We have this mechanism to ensure that money is collected and we are now working on a debt strategy on how to recover that money,” Dr Undenge said.
“Everyone should be responsible and pay for what he or she consumes. Zesa is not a charity organisation and electricity should not be given for free.”
Some Government Ministers and senior civil servants are not paying their electricity bills, with some owing tens of thousands of dollars at their homes and farms.
Said Dr Undenge: “We want power to be paid for. It is only Government departments, a number of consumers are owing and if you don’t pay for the services, Zesa will come to a stage where it will not be able to deliver that service, yet the source of the problem will be consumers.”
Dr Undenge did not disclose the strategies Zesa would employ to recover the money.
Initially, Zesa last year had devised drastic measures that could have left thousands of people and small businesses nationwide disconnected as it wanted those in arrears to service their debts in three years.
The move would have seen consumers being forced to pay high monthly instalments towards servicing their debts before accessing electricity.
For consumers on the prepayment system, Zesa wanted to increase its debt redemption rate so debts are liquidated faster.
The move was shelved as among the defaulters were several entities that are key to the revival of the country’s economy.
Dr Undenge said a tariff increase, which Zesa proposed, should be complemented by great efficiency from the power utility.
Some stakeholders attending the ongoing Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority consultations on the proposed tariff increases have argued that the power utility could not up their charges when their efficiency was questionable.
Although Zesa has made strides on putting many consumers on the prepayment system, there has always been outrage over the older billing system, with customers accusing the power utility of failing to timeously capture payments and at times forcing them to pay bills twice.
Most of the money consumers owe accrued through this shambolic billing system, which issued out bills based on estimates.
“As the Minister of Energy, my job is to ensure that Zesa operates efficiently,” said Dr Undenge. “Where there are areas of inefficiency, I will work on that to ensure that. If need be, I will have to kick butt.”
Dr Undenge said while a tariff increase was definite, it would be reasonable.
“We are going with a cost everyone will understand, facts on the ground,” he said. “Zesa has to remain viable, financing its projects and providing the much needed power to drive aspirations of ZimAsset and at the same time farmers, industry and general consumers have to access the power. So it has to be a win-win situation.”
Though Zesa’s proposed tariffs have remained a secret, sources said the utility wanted the price pegged at 14 cents per kilowatt per hour up from 9,86c/Kwh.
The average electricity cost in the Southern African region is 14c/kWh.
Some of the projects Zesa is working on include the expansion of Kariba South and Hwange power stations, installation of the Dema diesel emergency power plant and the Mutare peaking plant.
There are also efforts to repower Munyati, Harare and Bulawayo power stations.