ZESA Holdings has reportedly engaged President Robert Mugabe’s office over the proposed scrapping of electricity bills, arguing the move would be disastrous.
Sources told NewsDay yesterday that the power utility’s top brass had held a closed-door meeting recently and agreed to engage the President’s Office over the issue of scrapping bills.
The meeting, according to one source, had come up with a position paper on the matter, which paper had been submitted to the President’s Office.
Yesterday, the senior official said: “We prepared a paper that we sent to the President’s Office raising those issues. Our argument is that the power utility cannot slash bills because it has got clients that have been ring-fenced and some of its customers make advance payments which leaves the utility at a precarious position as to how it will treat those customers.”
There have been suggestions from various quarters, including top government officials, that Zesa writes off customer debts as has happened with water andother utility bills.
Among those making this proposal are Vice-President Joice Mujuru and outgoing Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo who presided over the cancellation of local authority bills owed by individuals.
The Zesa management meeting concluded that it would be disastrous to scrap bills, hence the need to engage the President’s Office.
The source added that Zesa had a “legacy of debts worth half a billion dollars that includes debts taken over from Central African Power Company that used to be the purchaser of power in the country”.
Although top Zesa officials could not officially comment on the matter, they confirmed the meeting saying: “That is confidential . . . it has big names in it.”
Zesa spokesperson Fullard Gwasira, however, denied the power utility had approached the President’s Office. He said: “That assertion is baseless and incorrect. Zesa has in place very effective ways of communicating with our customers. I cannot comment any further on this issue at the moment.”
It could not be ascertained yesterday whether the President’s Office had received the letter.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said: “I am not aware of that. Zesa can’t do that since there is no minister. Why can’t you wait for President Mugabe to announce a Cabinet?”
Soon after ordering the scrapping of water bills by municipalities, Chombo said: “That’s the Zanu PF thinking that Zesa and Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority) should do the same on debts. How can you recover a seven-year-old debt? A debt was carried over, but what happened to the money that was in the banks before the adoption of the multi-currency regime? (Outgoing Finance minister Tendai) Biti took two years to pay farmers and in such cases, where do you think the people get the money?”
Experts have, however, expressed fear that any such move would affect the country’s financial capacity to import the much-needed power since domestic production was not enough to power the country.
Last month Zesa Holdings chief executive officer Josh Chifamba said the ongoing power cuts being experienced countrywide were a result of the decline in imports from neighbouring countries and maintenance work at Hwange Power Station.
Chifamba said the country had not experienced serious power interruption in the six weeks before the latest outages as it was receiving about 400 megawatts of power from Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa, while Hwange was working at full throttle producing 700 megawatts before suddenly dipping.