9 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Under Pressure Zesa Promises to Stop Disconnections

The national power utility has promised to stop disconnecting customers with outstanding payments, while it faces more pressure to sort out its billing system.

ZESA has ordered its regional managers countrywide to stop power disconnections, to fall in line with a directive from the Energy Minister Elton Mangoma more than two months ago. In August, Mangoma had said the disconnections would stop while the power utility was installing prepaid meters to households across the country.

However, the directive was not honoured and there have been ongoing reports of customers being disconnected, despite many insisting that the estimated bills provided by ZESA do not match their actual power usage.

Jenni Williams, who leads the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), said on Friday that the orders to stop the disconnections will come as a welcome relief. WOZA has been pressuring ZESA throughout the past year to sort out its billing and power shortage issues, and provide customers with a proper service.

Williams told SW Radio Africa that the ongoing disconnections have been a source of anger and discontent for many of their members.

Williams also welcomed a court decision which could see ZESA reimbursing its customers. An administrate court last week ruled that an energy tariff increase of more than 30%, that was imposed more than a year ago, was illegal.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries had contested the new tariff on the basis that when it was approved, the board of the Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority (ZERA) was not properly constituted as required by the law.

The Administrative Court president Herbert Mandeya ruled that the increase was invalid, and ordered ZERA to come up with a new tariff in three months. Until then, the old tariffs imposed in 2009 will be charged.

There is also still no indication of how the power authority plans to reimburse customers directly or credit their accounts. WOZA's Williams said that either way it is a vindication for those who raised concerns about being overcharged by ZESA. Williams however raised concerns about the possible implications of the court decision, warning that ZESA had slowly begun to improve.

"In 2009 when the old tariff was set we had come out of the most dismal economic downturn ever. A lot of our rates and prices had not been properly established and there was a phase of experimentation. What we saw subsequent to that in the last year, we saw somehow less power cuts, the stabilisation of a pricing structure. So there have been incremental although slow improvements," Williams said.

She expressed concern that these improvements will be reversed if ZESA is now taking less money every month, after overcharging people for over a year. She said the implications of that could likely mean more power cuts in the future.

"I'm led to believe that because there have been more customers paying, ZESA has been in a better position. But now if they are in a negative balance and they need to refund their consumers, it will prejudice their abilities to pay for power," Williams said.

ZESA spokesman Fullard Gwasira had agreed to speak to SW Radio Africa on Friday, but he was not reachable by phone.

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