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ZESA and government corruption and incompetence to blame for perennial power challenges in Zimbabwe

  • Dec 4, 2022
  • 126 views
Source: 
The Zimbabwean

Tendai Ruben Mbofana Yet, this a nation which envisions itself as an 'upper middle-income economy by 2030' through its clearly unrealistic and delusional NDS1 (National Development Agenda). Surely, how can people who totally shunned anything that would actually develop and advance the country for the past 42 years, suddenly be dreaming of taking us to the pinnacle of economic prosperity and success within the next seven years? How can those who opted to focus of looting our national resources for their own self-aggrandizement for four decades now be expected to bring back to life all that they destroyed, and reviving what their pillaged into oblivion in less that a decade? The saying, it is easier to destroy than the build, speaks volumes! As I brace for the eight-hour power load-shedding which has worsened and become a daily occurrence, especially since the recent stranger than fiction announcement of significantly reduced electricity generation at Kariba Hydro-Power Station, ostensibly due to the country having exhausted its annual water allocation I try to imagine just how much the country is being prejudiced on account of lost productivity.

Are we not looking at possibly millions of dollars a day? The question then becomes why? Why has a country that was once a powerhouse in power production, been reduced into a laughing stock of the region now forced to go around scrounging for leftover electricity from its neighbors? Who and what is truly behind this seemingly unending 'curse' that has befallen Zimbabweans whose problems relentlessly pile up, one upon the other, in a seemingly malevolent quest to squeeze the very life out of the already heavy-burdened and suffering citizens of this country? Zimbabweans have endured a plethora of burdensome economic, political and social problems over the past two decades and, that all stems from the same sourcea corrupt and incompetent government, whose effects are felt the most in state-owned enterprises. The country's power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) is in no way left out.

The country has the capacity to generate about 2,240 MW of power, but is producing less than 1,300 MW. Topping the list in these unending power outages is antiquated Rhodesian-era equipment at all the country's thermal power stations, notably Hwange, Munyati, Harare, and Bulawayo which expectedly breaks down with maddening regularity producing an average 400 MW for the largest (Hwange), and the smaller ones with a combined 45 MW.

Other factors attributed to this menace are the non-payment of outstanding bills by consumers, the charging of sub-economic tariffs over a protracted period by ZESA, and an alleged increase in cases of electricity infrastructure theft and vandalism. Of course, most recently there was a reported drastic reduction of power generation at Kariba from 600 MW to only 300 MW per day (of the 2,100 MW installed capacity).

As much as all these may appear to make perfect sense at first glance a critical and thorough in-depth analysis portrays a far much different picture that reeks of unforgivable systematic corruption, as well as institutionalized inherent incompetence. Firstly, low water levels are nothing new in this country, as we have repeatedly experienced droughts for decades yet, our power utility never saw it fit to formulate and implement contingency measures to avert such an imminent disaster.

Unless if ZESA and its major shareholder, the government of Zimbabwe, have been living underneath some rock for the past decades climatic change has been a major component of our world, and any institution seeking to be taken seriously would have already put in place strategies to avert its effects. These measures could have been chosen from a whole host of solutions including, investing in alternative energy generation sources, such as wind and solar.

Since Zimbabwe hosted the World Solar Summit on 16 to 17 September 1996 amid much pomp and fanfare one would have thought that the government, would have embarked on a massive solar energy drive 23 years ago especially considering that the economy was performing relatively well. However, similar to most gatherings hosted or attended by this regime or even conventions and agreements it has signed and ratified nothing tangible and concrete has seldom been yielded.

They have mostly turned out to have been nothing more than talk shops, photo ops, and moments for dining and wining, and a complete waste of taxpayers' money. If the government, and by extension ZESA, had taken the maximum opportunity of this solar summit in 1996, this country could have since become one of the major global power generation players and innovators.

In fact, we would most likely have been exporters of electricity, rather than importers. Yet, such is the grim travesty of those in authority in this country as they wait for the situation to get out of hand, and become catastrophic, and only then do they start running around 'like headless chickens' clearly in panic mode and clueless as what to do, due to their myopic and reactive, rather than proactive, nature.

Furthermore, why in the world should a nation endowed with some of the world's most precious mineral resources sit on its laurels for all these years quite content with using Rhodesian power generating equipment which most probably, is no longer even still in production anywhere in the world? Why, in 2022, are we still complaining about the breaking down of equipment at Hwange Thermal Power Station? Are these signs of both a company, and a government, that is serious with its operations, and the welfare of the nation at large? Or, are they merely content with spending all the accrued revenue on personal luxuries and upmarket lifestyles for those in power? To imagine that ZESA and its major shareholder, failed in the simplest of tasks in their inability to even properly maintain, let alone upgrade, whatever they inherited from the Rhodesia era characterized by the dilapidation of such thermal power stations as Munyati, Harare and Bulawayo fills me with unbridled shame for my country, as I am reminded of the biblical prodigal son, who wasted all his inheritance on women and wine. Such is the story of Zimbabwe.

This brings us to the issue of corruption at the power utility. The 2019 Auditor General's forensic report conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) cast a very dark shadow on this company and its shady operations.

Millions of United States (US) dollars were siphoned through elaborate schemes such as, over payment on transformers,, purchase of obsolete equipment, luxury vehicles (an executive reportedly splashing US$600,000 on four vehicles), and other extravagant accessories for those at the top. Could these millions of US dollars not have been better used in the procurement of new modern power-generation equipment? Yet, ZESA prioritized purchasing luxury vehicles for its executives, whilst splashing them with insane salaries and allowances.

Similarly, if the local power utility failed to charge reasonable and economically viable tariffs over the past years as well as seriously and earnestly following up on outstanding bills owed to it, mostly by the so-called 'chefs' and 'big fish' within government is that the ordinary Zimbabweans' fault? Should we then suffer because of the government and ZESA's economic ineptitude? Therefore, who is to blame for the power shortages and outages that have adversely affected ordinary suffering Zimbabweans' day to day lives, crippled business operations negatively affecting the administration's own "Zimbabwe is open for business", and the target of an "upper middle income economy by 2030"? Most certainly, ZESA and its major shareholder the government of Zimbabwe by virtue of their wanton corruption and incompetence have a serious case to answer and need to urgently be held to account. Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, author, and speaker.

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