Lincoln Towindo and Tinashe Farawo
Senior Zesa Holdings engineers have blamed their parent ministry for the loss of millions of United States dollars in electricity revenue, saying the latter opened the pre-paid metering system to abuse by influencing the awarding of installation contracts to several companies.In the unprecedented move stemming from revenue leakage concerns, the engineers said this “pick-and-drop” contract awarding approach has resulted in a wider pool of unscrupulous individuals identifying loopholes in the system.
As a result, numerous electricity consumers have over the past two years engaged some of the previously-contracted personnel to by-pass the meters and, subsequently, payment, at an agreed fee.
Earlier reports indicated Zesa Holdings was losing close to US$10 million per month due to this system circumvention while over 4 000 households in the capital were implicated in the scam.
The pattern shows these figures have shot up since. There are also growing fears the power utility will fail to recover an US$800 million debt owed by defaulting consumers. Zesa deducts 20 percent of all pre-paid electricity purchases by defaulters to recover the staggering debt.
The outstanding US$800 million, once repaid, is sufficient to construct a new power generation plant the size of Kariba Hydro-Power Station without authorities seeking additional funding.
However, the engineers contend undue influence from their parent ministry has thrown the otherwise efficient pre-paid metering system into disarray.
Energy and Power Development Minister Mr Dzikamai Mavhaire — contacted to respond to the case against his ministry — said: “I am not a technical person. Talk to the technical people. I am focusing on policy.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, one of the Harare-based engineers said many companies were intermittently contracted to install the meters.
He said the utility intended to contract one company to install the meters, but the ministry moved in to determine the installers and expand their number.
The companies are said to have been contracted for short periods in particular suburbs. Some of the firms, which merely deal in electricals and are not conversant with the system, would, in turn, recruit personnel and seek training before moving on to installations.
“Information we have reveals that the ministry influenced the people who would install the meters. It would have been ideal to limit the number of people involved, but the problem is so many companies were contracted,” said the engineer.
“Some of them were contracted for a month and after the expiry of their contracts, most of the personnel in these companies became jobless instantly.
“These people are the ones who have been conniving with residents and some of our technicians to by-pass the metering system. As a result, electricity is stolen.”
Another engineer also said authorities blundered in contracting, awarding several companies to install pre-paid metres.
“After the expiry of their contracts with these metres most of these people will now have experience on how to by-pass the metering system,” he said.
“How can an ordinary person by-pass the meter? It takes the necessary expertise and most of these people are the ones who were contracted to install pre-paid meters,” he said.
Zesa introduced pre-paid meters in August 2012, targeting 800 000 households.
To date, 400 000 meters have been installed in different parts of the country with 100 000 more to be fitted by year end. The entire project, expected to cost in the region of US$60 million, is tailored to curb payment defaults.
Under the system, customers purchase tokens whose electricity units correspond with the value of the purchase made.
One is able to manage consumption as they only use power paid for.
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