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Bottom Drawer: Please pay Zesa Bills

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In siNdebele proverbial euphemism, one who has been “kicked by a zebra on the chest” generally exhibits a penchant for hasty decisions laced with careless talk.

Such persons are termed Othathekile, much like in the mould of overzealous Zanu PF property rights violators who never tire of causing agony!

The Jonathan Moyos, the Arthur Mutambaras, the Nolbert Kunongas, and the Jabulani Sibandas, flag bearers of local sardonic political satire, could easily snatch this Othathekile title.

I am also tempted to slot Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s minister for “alien affairs”, in this “kicked by a zebra” bracket. This is for rushing to show Libyan Ambassador Taher El Magrahi the exit door.

Apparently, Mumbengegwi is one in many Sadc Othathekiles who haven’t noticed fugitive dictator Muammar Gaddafi is running from rather than running a country.

An Othathekile scenario to hit Zimbabwe like a tsunami lately is the “war” of tariffs between Zesa and its stakeholders.

As a liberal with a religious conviction in small government and free enterprise, I have always pontificated how Zesa and its subsidiary entities are such a drain on the national fiscus.

Zesa, like all other God-forsaken government companies, is top heavy, reeking with partisan appointees who know pretty little about good corporate governance.

Every time economists lambast Zimbabwe’s industry for failing to emerge from the low productivity woods, Zesa is inevitably placed in the formula of blame.

Power outages and load-shedding are the norm, rather than exception.

Yet Zesa might just have an ideal motive for reviewing its tariffs upwards. Firstly, Zimbabwe’s electricity has been for decades, supplied at sub-economic rates.

Stakeholders are so accustomed to cheap power, so much that now that Zesa wants to go beyond cost recovery, there is such a storm of protests from the new crop of institutional Othathekile, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry (CZI), Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA), Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) and Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT).

Secondly, Othathekile should accuse Zesa of bad management practices, rather than “unfair” pricing.

Granted, an increase in input costs tends to be inflationary, but the mere fact that current Zesa tariffs are well below what is reasonably sufficient to enable rehabilitation of critical equipment is in itself bad business.

If these representative bodies want to remain relevant, they ought to feed their members with accurate statistics.

When Finance minister Tendai Biti slapped duty on imported groceries, we proponents of free trade chided him for protecting a largely predatory, sluggish local industry that brandishes a dozen reasons to perpetuate monopolistic comforts.

Of course, Zimbabweans want to be “protected” from dangerous cheap quality foodstuffs, as long as this does not stifle innovation and consumer choice.
Power generation requires long-term investment.

For new entrants to entertain any ideas of competing against Zesa, they should be assured of value-adding market level tariffs.

The government of Zimbabwe needs to keep its hands off enablers of economic growth so that the market can determine our fate.

Protectionist paranoia from CHRA, Woza, CZI and HRT only aggravates the power deficit situation.

Whilst I admit that Zesa is not exactly an award-winning company, but if Othathekile accept market-rated tariffs and pay their bills, this could immediately change the landscape of power generation.

By resisting new tariffs, Othathekile mimic Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo who thinks councils operate on deceptive populist rhetoric rather than business sense.

Othathekile, as M&G blogger Joseph Dana puts it, tend to be “light on factual analysis and heavy on an emotional pull”.

Zesa is reeling under a crippling shortage of engineers and artisans, but they can also do Othathekile a favour by load-shedding their “excess top-heavy structure and unsustainable wages and salaries” to get the pylons energised once more.

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