ENERGY and Power Development minister Fortune Chasi has directed the board of the financially hamstrung power utility Zesa to come up with strategies to recover US$1,2 billion it is owed by customers, including government departments and local authorities.
Among Zesa’s big debtors are political bigwigs and hangers-on who are failing to pay for electricity used at their farms and business premises. These include current and former cabinet ministers, senior government officials, securocrats, members of the judiciary and legislators.
Last year, Zesa disconnected power at farms owned by several high-profile people and also sued some of them, including Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister July Moyo, in a bid to recover the money. Among those taken to court last year are former ministers Didymus Mutasa and Sydney Sekeramayi.
However, Zesa buckled to political pressure and abandoned plans to disconnect power supplies to the farms after the politicians argued the move would affect food security.
Fortune Chasi told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Zesa should recover the money if the power utility is to have a fighting chance at solving the country’s energy crisis.
“There is an outstanding US$1,2 billion that Zesa still needs to collect from its customers. It is sad that our institutions and people have now become so used to free things to an extent that paying this amount of money is becoming a challenge,” Chasi said.
“I have asked the newly appointed board to look into this debt issue and come up with a strategy which would help the company to recover the money. It is important to do that (recovering the money) despite the fact that talking and raising this issue has made some of us unpopular.”
Chasi said his instructions come against the background where local authorities were sitting at the apex of the debtors’ list.
“From the list that I have seen, local authorities owe a lot of money to Zesa. The power utility has a challenge that it can’t switch off power to these local authorities because once you do that, you are saying they will not be able to pump water to the people out there. If that happens, there is a high likelihood of disease outbreaks,” he said.
“Zesa needs to develop a plan that will see these local authorities and other debtors paying back what they owe. It is critical that the plan is developed as soon as possible,” Chasi said.
Farmers, Chasi said were also posing a headache to Zesa as some of them had also failed to come good on their undertaking to pay up. This, Chasi said, was presenting another headache to the utility.
“We have farmers who also owe Zesa a lot of money. They have not paid up, some of them for the last couple of years. Zesa is facing a challenge with such farmers because most of them are involved in winter farming programmes where they need power and, if they are switched off, the crop that is about to mature is going to be affected,” Chasi added.
The Energy minister revealed that Zesa had failed to award its workers “meaningful” salary increases owing to the financial challenges the utility is facing.
It has been a while since workers at Zesa were given meaningful salary reviews. We have people spending time fighting issues in courts of law, spending huge amounts of money on lawyers to defend some of these cases yet workers’ plight remains unattended.
“One might attribute it to the old board which removed its eyes from the ball and was busy concentrating on other things. I have asked the new board to look at the workers’ welfare and come up with an answer to the workers’ concerns,” Chasi said.