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Powertel monopoly irrational

THE Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) has once again flattered to deceive, and as it is wont to, left thousands of long-suffering consumers in the dark … Literally.

Editor’s Memo by Stewart Chabwinja

In the latest of a long series of debacles Powertel, for some unexplained reason the sole aggregator of pre-paid electricity tokens, severely inconvenienced consumers by denying them access to power for two days after its system crashed.

In fact, any electricity consumer on the pre-paid platform will tell you the powertel system is frequently down at various outlets, but thankfully for far shorter periods.

Much was made of the introduction of pre-paid electricity; it heralded a transformation that would hugely benefit consumers, it was trumpeted.

Not only would it enable consumers to monitor their electricity usage and give them “total control over consumption” and halt overcharging based on estimates, it would also ensure steady and reliable revenue streams for cash-strapped Zesa.

Needless to say consumers had no control after being left totally powerless — excuse the pun — following the Powertel debacle.

The Ministry of Energy’s decision to appoint Powertel as the sole aggregator for the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) increasingly appears harebrained with consumers bearing the brunt of the baffling decision, as long queues at ZETDC banking halls and other contracted vendors over the weekend attest.

The two days consumers endured without power imply Zesa, perennially bemoaning lack of financial resources and the hundreds of millions it is owed, was deprived of revenue crucial to improving its shoddy service.

It is startling that despite Powertel’s obvious shortcomings, the powers that be insisting on the monopolistic status quo. There is a strong whiff of corruption in that; crooked so-and-sos must be lining their pockets.

Allowing other players to bring about competition and consequently an efficient pre-paid electricity system that will benefit consumers and the power utility, as well as boost its severely depleted coffers, appears a no-brainer.

Powertel’s failure is made all the more embarrassing considering that there was a bidding process involving various companies reportedly well-equipped to become aggregators, which was cancelled under foggy circumstances.

The muddle over the smart metering exercise is another indictment of the pre-paid electricity roll-out; another instance of suspiciously corrupt considerations taking precedence over sheer common sense.

Last year we had then Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire ordering the tender for 300 000 smart meters against advice by Zesa officials that only 60 000 smart meters were needed.

That the tender was cancelled soon after Mavhaire was kicked out of office shows the extent to which graft and politics are trumping logical business decisions.

Zesa’s apology to consumers, who feel taken for granted, that the pre-paid electricity vending system failure was caused by “middle-ware system malfunction” — whatever that is — is scant consolation.

Electricity is a basic domestic and industrial requirement; It is at the centre of the country’s economic revival efforts.

Thus the dog’s breakfast that the pre-paid electricity token system is proving to be compromises national aspirations.

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