22 February 2012

Zimbabwe: Farmers Owe Zesa U.S.$78 Million

FARMERS owe the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company more than US$78 million for unpaid bills accrued since the introduction of the use of multiple currencies.

Zesa spokesperson Mr Fullard Gwasira yesterday said ZETDC was not billing its customers using amounts that were being owed in the Zimbabwe dollar era as they were all written off at the inception of dollarisation.

"To set the record straight, the power utility wrote off bills to the tune of US$21 million for all customers.

"Therefore no customer is carrying bills from the Zimbabwe dollar era.

"Zesa did not have any legal instrument to enable it to charge in US dollar prior to the monetary policy of 2009," he said.

His comments come in the wake of claims by some farmers that the power utility had disconnected them as they owed it a lot of money from the Zimbabwe dollar era.

Mr Gwasira said it was only appropriate for consumers to honour their bills in the interest of ensuring national security of electricity supply.

The power utility, he said, has always been a strong proponent of productivity through ensuring security of electricity supply to the farming community and the business sector in general, but some farmers had deliberately not been paying.

"Last year, the utility offered a stop order facility to tobacco and cotton farmers so that they can pay upon marketing of the crop but the arrangement did not work, as farmers were not forthcoming at marketing time and bills still went unpaid.

"It is this scenario which is prompting Zesa to withdraw supply as a last ditch measure, before possible litigation is pursued."

Mr Gwasira said withdrawal of supplies was a measure designed to encourage customers to pay up.

He said failure by some farmers to settle their bills had a snowball effect in that the power utility would fail to raise enough funds to pay for electricity imports and even buy spares.

This, he said, was among other crucial inputs that ensured security of supply for the successful continuity of farmers' farming activities.

"Farmers are encouraged to pay up because farming is a business just as industry and commerce. We however, remain sensitive to their seasonal activities and cash flows. ZETDC has always been handling its credit control system on an individual customer basis where each case is treated on its own merit," added Mr Gwasira.

He encouraged farmers to always liaise with the power utility for their challenges to be attended to and most importantly, to demonstrate commitment to pay for the electricity that they would have consumed and are consuming.

Farmers recently accused the power utility of unfairly disconnecting them saying the move was literally killing agricultural productivity.

Tobacco farmers particularly, had raised concern that the disconnection of power was grossly crippling their efforts to cure their crop and go to the floors.

"I think it is necessary for the power utility to consider our situation seriously and give us a reprieve to cure our tobacco and then settle our bills.

"As it stands we are likely to lose some of our tobacco after failing to cure it," said a Beatrice farmer.

Zesa recently went on a campaign to disconnect power for those farmers with unsettled bills, which has left many of them stranded, as they need electricity for many activities on their farms. A manager at Albion Farm in Beatrice, Wellington Chatikobo said they were facing huge losses as they were using diesel for curing tobacco that is estimated to yield more than 240 tonnes.

"We need between 800 and 1 000 litres of diesel every day for our big generator. This is obviously very costly. Electricity only comes for periods of less than an hour so we have completely switched to the use of generators," said Chatikobo.

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