Eric Bloch: Shooting Themselves in the Foot

MIXED emotions are the sensation experienced when watching the mother-in-law driving over the cliff in one’s new car! And mixed emotions are the reactions almost all must be experiencing in Zimbabwe today when interacting with parastatals in general, and with the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) and TelOne in particular, as well as in dealing with local authorities.


On the one hand the on-line, “front-of-house” personnel of those entities are, with rare exception, extraordinarily attentive to their customer needs, are courteous, responsive and demonstrate exceptional patience.

On the other hand, most of the policy makers and “supreme” management beings of those entities not only have a total and insolent disregard for their customers, but in their arrogant convictions that they are omnipotent make endlessly ill-considered decisions which are not only contemptuous of customer needs and circumstances, but are also of disastrous consequences to the entity and its survival.

It never ceases to be amazing how extremely patiently Zesa’s customer-service telephonists respond to hundreds (if not thousands) of endless phone enquiries as to whether power supply interruptions are load-shedding or fault created, and the likely duration thereof.

Even more so is their temperate responsiveness to those who, very unjustly, berate them for the cuts in power supply, notwithstanding that clearly those telephonists are not culpable for the power cuts.

They demonstrate politeness, understanding, sympathy and courteousness to all their callers, including even those who are aggressively confrontational and abusive, holding the innocent Zesa recipient of the call accountable and guilty for the power-supply failures.

Similarly, those engaged in customer service at TelOne have shown amazing patience and courtesy to the numerous irate customers complaining about non-receipt of bills, untenably great charges unrelated to actual calls made, and agitated in the extreme by peremptory disconnection of services.

Instead of resorting to defensiveness or aggression, they respond calmly and tolerantly. Their customer composure and forbearance is remarkable.

In contradistinction, those who determine the organisational pricing policies are indisputably imbued with the conviction that they can do whatever they deem fit for, either wholly or to a minor extent, they control monopolies.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, they are dominated by the knowledge that their customers are tied to them, having little or no access to alternative services. Consequently, no matter how unjust, how commercially unrealistic, how economically destructive their policies and decisions may be, they pursue those decisions without concern as to the negative impacts upon not only the customers, but also upon the organisation itself.

Highlights of these dogmatic and diabolically ill-conceived policies include the recent spate of summary disconnections of electricity supplies by Zesa to numerous industries and other businesses. That action is justified by the powers that be as necessitated by the consumers’ failure to pay for past electricity consumption. However, in so doing, Zesa disregards numerous considerations which should have motivated a temperate and non-cataclysmic stance, including:

It is many, many months since Zesa has issued statements of account to its consumers, notwithstanding that it is bound by law to do so. How on earth is the customer to know what his payment liability is in the absence of an account, and as Zesa is prescribed by law to issue accounts to all intents and purposes the consumer has no liability to effect payment until such issue occurs.

Those conscientious consumers who, in the absence of receipt of accounts, make enquiries to Zesa as to amounts owing are recurrently advised that “our machines are down”, and therefore are not advised of their indebtedness.

Zesa’s tariffs vastly exceed those prevailing elsewhere in the region and, for several months, it has been directed by government to revise such tariffs downwards to realistic levels, with retrospective effect. Until it does so, and the revised tariffs published, consumers cannot even compute their liability by self-reading of meters.

It is incontrovertible that, although Zimbabwe’s economy is now undergoing the first small and tentative steps towards economic recovery, currently the entire economy is confronted with immense scarcities of currency.

As a result, businesses and others unavoidably have to delay effecting payments due, pending requisite cash flows. Zesa needs to understand that they are not deliberate payment defaulters, but need to be temporarily accommodated pending a progressive return to economic normality.

Undoubtedly the Zesa response is, “But we need the money in order to operate!” Yes, Zesa does need cash inflows, as do all other businesses, and yet it cannot generate them by heavy-handed and oppressive service suspension policies.

Instead, by so doing, Zesa is actually shooting itself, and Zimbabwe as a whole, in the foot. When it cuts off supplies to a factory, that factory’s discontinuance of operations impacts upon the economy as a whole and, amongst other repercussions, it’s employees and suppliers become victims of further cash constraints, which will preclude them also from making payments to Zesa.

The same is true for when Zesa cuts off supplies to mines, to commerce and others. Cutting off those supplies does not improve Zesa’s cash inflows. Instead, it worsens them yet further. Effectively, Zesa is triggering mass economic suicide, inclusive of its own demise.

The same applies to TelOne’s disconnection of business telephone services for, without those services, the businesses’ operations are severely hampered, reducing their ability to generate the cash needed for operations, inclusive of the cash required for TelOne, Zesa, Zimra and others. And this is also so in respect of local authorities.

Commendably, the City of Harare recently announced a 50% reduction in its charges, which is a positive step in the right direction, but other local authorities are being tardy in emulating that example, to the prejudice of themselves, their residents, and the Zimbabwean economy.

BY ERIC BLOCH

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