The Sunday Mail
Lincoln Towindo and Tinashe Farawo
Employees of companies sub-contracted by Zesa Holdings to install pre-paid meters have been fingered as the major culprits behind the massive electricity theft that has cost the utility millions of dollars. According to information gathered last week, after being rendered jobless at the expiry of installation contracts, the employees “offer themselves” to defaulting consumers who owe Zesa substantial amounts of money and physically by-pass the meters.
They then charge between US$200 and US$500 depending on the debt.
The power utility recently created a Revenue Protection Unit tasked with investigating and reporting culprits involved in power thefts through meter by-passes.
A subsequent forensic investigation by the unit unearthed systematic revenue leakages.
The report noted that artisans and technicians connive with consumers to by-pass the pre-paid meter system in order to access free electricity.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail revealed that artisans are using “jumper” cables to by-pass meters and to direct the electricity current straight into the household distribution unit.
University of Zimbabwe electrical engineering lecturer Engineer Emmanuel Rashayi said pre-paid meters have limited intelligence and can be easily manipulated by qualified technicians and technically-gifted individuals.
“The pre-paid meters Zesa is installing are ‘dumb’ terminals, meaning they do not have the intelligence to monitor the consumption profile of a customer.
“I suspect the manipulation and by-passing of the system could be linked to an inside job involving qualified technicians working within Zesa.
“In most cases, I have observed that the technicians connect a jumper cable that by-passes the meter so that it cannot record the current passing through the terminal.”
In other cases, artisans have been installing pre-paid meters which are not registered on the Zesa grid, while, in other instances, faulty meters supplied by contractors make it easier for culprits to steal power.
The faulty meters witnessed consumers being awarded thousands of electricity units without paying a penny.
Zesa has since recalled some meters. Despite sinking US$35 million into the pre-paid metering project so far, the utility has continued to struggle with leakages.
The authorities have touted more expensive smart meters as a possible solution, but this has been challenged by some engineers who argue that a manual bypass can still be carried out even if smart meters are in use.