Zimbabwe: Power Outages Severely Erode Companies' Productive Capacity

Surface Wilmar, one of Zimbabwe's largest cooking oil producers, says power outages, poor industrial policies and lack of competitiveness are hampering the country from attracting investors.

Speaking during a tour of the company's plant on Tuesday in Chitungwiza, Surface Wilmar chairperson Narottan Somani said the country was no longer conducive for business due to the power outages and the high cost of doing business.

Production at the factory has been suspended for the past 17 days due to load shedding that has been introduced by Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa).

The company requires about eight megawatts daily for its plant and needs 100 litres of diesel per hour to power the factory with a generator.

"There is no production. As you went through the factory, did you see workers there? Did you see the factory running? For the last 16 to 17 days, there has been no production here," Somani said.

Power outages have forced the company to reduce its production capacity to 15%.

Somani said government should allow them to invest in agriculture so that they can produce the required amount of soya beans. Surface Wilmar and other cooking oil producers in the country have been relying on imported soya bean.

Chief executive Sylvester Mangani said the new industrial policy does not favour existing investors, adding it gave preference to new and prospective investors. The government should look after existing investors before trying to lure new investors, he said.

"Is there anything else that you can tell us minister on the new industrial policy? The feeling we are getting is that the industrial policy is not addressing existing investors who are there. I think we tend to want to attract investors who are not coming but at the same time not looking at the ones who are there. If we can at least look after the existing investors it will be a start. If they are competitive enough that will help attract investment," he said.

"All other new investors are asking us if they should come and we don't know what to say. I don't know how the country can be open for business when we have power cuts."

Mangani said exporting was not easy, given the many bureaucratic processes involved in getting permits.

"When we export we have to go through a process of getting permits. Each time we export we have to get an export permit so it's just a nuisance cost," Mangani said.

"We have to recruit a person who has to do that so for us. It's just an extra person who has to chase export permits which we think is an unnecessary cost."

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