Suffice it to say that the country’s fiscus-bleeding parastatals would make suitable material for a case study on how to run down a company.
Due to its central role in the economy and the layman’s life, Zesa has come to typify the rot of parastatals. It frequently makes news for what appear to be insurmountable challenges. And like other state entities it has ready excuses for all seasons to explain its shoddy service and power cuts.
In winter unplanned power cuts are blamed on increased demand; during the rainy season it is to do with water seeping into cables and trees falling on power lines; at any other time Zesa can cite maintenance works, coal shortage or the perennially troublesome Hwange power station, among others.
I thought I was familiar with Zesa’s plethora of ailments until I visited its billing division with the most mundane of tasks — paying an electricity bill. Little did I know what I was in for.
After failing to receive a July bill for a recently-completed house I am renting I decided to visit Zesa’s billing offices at Megawatt House on August 16. After a quick computer check I was told that they were still to allocate the premises an account number and, in the meantime, could I bring them my meter reading and meter number? I obliged and the following day the details were entered into a hardcover exercise book. Much as I wanted to, I was told I could not pay anything until allocated an account number, and was asked to return at the end of September.
I returned at the beginning of October, only to be told by the same employee that an account was still to be opened and NO, I could not pay until allocated one. After arguing that I thought this was utterly ridiculous and nonsensical as my bill was surely mounting, he suggested that I see a manager (name supplied) at Zesa payment offices a short distance across the street. The receptionist there told me he was not in, and called an accountant to attend to me. After making several futile calls she promised to phone me that week on a Friday, and gave me her business card for good measure.
When she didn’t and her landline continuously went unanswered I took another trip to her office on Wednesday. She was not in, I was told, as she was now working in Chitungwiza! This necessitated yet another trip to Megawatt House, where I met the now familiar employee. He again told me I still had no account number and he was sorry I still could not pay.
Pointing to a pile of hardcover exercise books he whispered in a conspiratorial tone: “Those books are full of customers in the same position as you and they can’t pay because due to technological challenges we can’t open accounts for them!” He then referred me to the same manager at the payment offices before wishing me good luck because “vakuru vacho havavhunduke (the managers are not easily moved)”.
So yet again I found myself at the payment offices, and, you guessed right, the manager was not in and the receptionist had no idea when he would return.
Two weeks ago we carried a story in which Energy and Power Development minister, Elton Mangoma lamented that the biggest problems facing Zesa is that residents were using electricity without paying for it, to the extent that Zesa is currently owed more than US$400 million which he said could have revamped the parastatal, resulting in less load-shedding. The irony, minister, is that there are many who wish to pay, but Zesa won’t let them.
As I ponder my next move, I’m bracing myself for a mega-bill and the spectre of disconnection when Megawatt House eventually gets its shoddy act together.