The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Speed Up Pre-Paid Meter Installations

opinion

The way Zesa Holdings bills its customers is crazy and a solution needs to be found urgently. Consumers cannot take lightly revelations that their meters are read only once every three months. Whatever explanation Zesa gives for issuing estimated bills is not plausible. There is nothing that is more detested by customers than paying for a service they did not enjoy.

The power utility is in business and for it to make money it has to tighten its systems. If the current systems fail, why not try an alternati-ve? We urge the authorities at the power utility to be wary of the trauma being suffered by consumers due to high bills caused by estimates.

The estimates have resulted in consumers collectively owing Zesa millions of dollars. While we are not encouraging consumers not to pay their bills (which some of them are not doing, anyway), we believe the bills should correspond with actual consumption.

One does not need to go far to witness how consumers detest the Zesa billing system. A visit to any Zesa banking hall will reveal that there is always a longer queue on the inquiries desk, compared to those who would be queuing to pay.

At the inquiries desk, harsh words are exchanged with the tellers as customers dispute the estimated bills. Yet all this can be avoided if Zesa puts its house in order. In the past, disputes between Zesa and the consumers were not that common. In cases where they occurred, they were over trivial issues that were quickly fixed.

But now the game has changed. Zesa is no longer on top of the situation and this explains the consternation from its customers. The power utility acknowledges that its billing system is in shambles. Yet its lethargic approach to solving the problem does not reflect the urgency.

Installing pre-paid meters for consumers to control their bills seems the only way out of the chaos. But the customers doubt the sincerity of Zesa in that regard. And they are justified if one considers the slow pace with which the power utility is moving on the project.

Only 30 000 pre-paid meters have been installed in Harare and Bulawayo since the inception of the project in August.

The figure is paltry considering that 600 000 pre-paid meters are expected to have been installed within 15 months.

At first, Zesa had given itself only 10 months to put everyone on pre-paid meters, but the extension of deadline indicates things are not well.

The power company might also find itself requiring more than 600 000 pre-paid meters as it has been on record saying it cannot account for more than 500 000 other customers.

Those who were circumventing paying the bills due to the lax Zesa revenue collection system might come out to claim the pre-paid meters. But we observe that Zesa is facing challenges in installing the pre-paid meters. And what this means is that estimated bills would stay for a long time.

But no one benefits from such a scenario. Zesa has to deal with empty coffers because consumers are resisting to pay the inflated bills. On the other hand, consumers will have to endure load shedding, with Zesa arguing that it cannot supply enough electricity because it has no money to refurbish plants.

Pre-paid meters will obviously force consumers to change their lifestyle to save the little electricity available. They will learn to switch off the lights when no one is using the room, turn off electrical gadgets not in use and use energy saving bulbs to reduce the electricity bill.

We, therefore, urge Zesa to move quickly in installing the pre-paid meters because their benefit are numerous to both parties.

We urge electricity consumers to pay their bills so that Zesa is able to buy more meters and pay for power imports.

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