HomeCommentZesa bill scam: A mirror on the abuse of power

Editor’s Memo: Reform Agenda Stalled

Mugabe reportedly owes an estimated US$246 000 for power supplied to his commercial farms and plots, while the First Lady is apparently US$98 306 in arrears for power used on her farms.

Apart from Mugabe and his family, there are many other bigwigs currently not paying their electricity bills, plunging the struggling Zesa deeper into dire straits.

These include Vice-President John Nkomo, Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa, State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Transport minister Nicholas Goche, Information minister Webster Shamu, Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Higher Education minister Stan Mudenge, Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Central Intelligence Organisation Director-General Happyton Bonyongwe as well as presidential spokesman George Charamba,  among many others.

In a bid to limit the damage,  Zesa released a statement on March 16, denying the first family was US$345 000 in arrears. But a day after the implausible denial, more names of defaulting government officials leaked. Despite Zesa’s failed damage-control exercise, these new revelations and ministers’ verbal acknowledgement of existing arrears put Mugabe and his family back in the spotlight as possible defaulters.

While the defaulters are ruining Zesa, there is also a serious human cost to politicians’ abuse of power and state resources that goes beyond US$2,47 million and points to a chronic incapacity to govern.

Around the country, under-funded government hospitals and clinics are struggling to meet critical patient needs without power because of load-shedding and yet the nation’s political elites run up huge bills with impunity.

Chikurubi Maximum Security prison struggles to cater for its 13 000 inmates because of inadequate water and electricity supplies. The elites’ US$2,47 million debt could easily pay for alternative power supplies to jails or hospitals, but instead the alleged defaulters moan about how their privacy has been invaded.

Zanu’s Secretary for Women Affairs Oppah Muchinguri who has US$53 699 outstanding, believed there were “ulterior motives because the publishing now makes it look like we are criminal”, while Kasukuwere inadvertently admitted his US$100 602 bill goes back to the Zimbabwe dollar days when he said, “I am not sure the figures are right. Remember there was dollarisation in 2009.”

This implies that he had not been paying his Zesa bills even before dollarisation. If part of Kasukuwere’s bill is more than three years old, Zesa needs to explain why he had been allowed to get away with it for so long. Zesa is owed at least US$450 million, primarily by government departments and industrial consumers like commercial farmers, factory and mining companies, but cannot pay Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa $80 million to import electricity.

As if to show just how little Zesa’s managers care about the company’s survival and the nation’s power needs, its executives have just been awarded an outrageous 75% increase dating back to 2009. Somehow, the parastatal’s top brass does not seem to understand the basic rules of business management and public service delivery: When an organisation is drowning in debt and its foreign creditors switch off its supply, it means there is no money.

No money to pay suppliers, no money to carry huge arrears incurred by government officials who ought to know better and certainly no money to pay huge salary hikes and perks for Zesa’s under-performing executives. Just as ordinary Zimbabweans have tightened their belts and endured Zesa’s intermittent supply, this country’s leaders and managers of state enterprises need to do the same.

If the commercial farmers in government cannot afford the operational costs of farming, perhaps it is time they got out of the business.

These top government officials are not just failing to utilise the land and produce to feed the nation and make profit for themselves, but are also now failing to pay electricity bills –– an indication of what has happened to those farms.

Now the country is facing a severe maize shortage mainly because of erratic rainfalls, insufficient land cultivated for 2011/12’s season and GMB’s mismanagement of fertiliser supplies.

The real cost of ministers raking in farming profits while operating costs are paid for by the average consumer and the taxpayer is yet to be told. This is the price Zimbabwe is paying for mismanagement, corruption and incompetence by government officials. While Mugabe perfects the art of bashing the West, Britain and Australia are donating US$25 million to Zimbabwe’s infrastructure rehabilitation programme. Named the Zim-Fund and chiefly funded by the UK’s Department of International Development, the money will go towards helping to provide electricity and water to 700 000 households in Harare, Ruwa and Chitungwiza. Evidently, Zimbabwe relies on British aid for development despite claims to the contrary by the government.

If the land reform and proposed indigenisation policies are to prove to the world that Zimbabwe is a stable and self-sufficient country, then we should not ruin our own power utility to end up relying on DRC, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa to provide electricity because that defeats that objective.

Towards the end of last year, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma signed a Memorandum of Understanding with his DRC counterpart Joseph Kabila to undertake an US$80 billion electricity project on the Grand Inga Dam but we were not involved even if we fought in the 1998-2002 Congo War, showing lack of vision by our leaders.

Although environmentally controversial, if successful the proposed plan could supply a third of Africa’s power needs. A whole continent could benefit, Zimbabwe included, but instead the country’s leaders are just running up huge Zesa bills and destroying the state enterprise and its capacity to generate enough power supply for the nation.

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