Opinion / Columnist

Hands up those who say Zesa should change to a National Grid Services Company?

by Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, 23rd January 2013
23 Jan 2013 at 11:11hrs | 3381 Views
I am not convinced that the so-called proposed restructuring of ZESA to National Grid Services Company (NGSC) by Zimbabwe's GNU will solve all the practical problems associated with Zesa.

News that the Government is planning to drop the name Zesa completely in preference for a very long, meaningless and difficult abbreviation called NGSC, without addressing the real problem of efficient power generation, transmission and distribution makes me suspect spin ahead of polls.

While I am fully aware of the fact that Zesa as an institution has caused serious social and economic problems due to power outages, sometimes unjustified disconnections, and incorrect or estimated billing, as a Zimbabwean I am strongly opposed to that name being dropped and would like it to remain because it is part of our history as a people. I am very nostalgic about Zesa – Moto Muzhinji!

After tinkering with Zesa, does it mean that the name Zimbabwe also risks being dropped for something else because of the country's notorious levels of corruption?

The GNU must be pressed to tell the truth about what will be achieved by the proposed dropping of the name Zesa which was not achieved by the two previous restructuring efforts in 1997 and in 2006.

What can the so-called National Grid Services Company (NGSC) do differently which Zesa has failed to do despite having three parties in government and the dollarization of Zimbabwe's economy?

It is my strongest suspicion that plans to shed the name Zesa from people's memories completely has something to do with the forthcoming harmonised elections which entail running presidential, parliamentary, senate and local government council elections at the same time.

And there is even another absurd suggestion to run the referendum alongside harmonised elections, so there is a lot at stake given the people's anger at what they perceive as Zesa's inefficiency or 'Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available'.

But, I am still opposed to dropping the name Zesa because it is not uncommon for people to vent their anger that way. I am aware that the former National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) of Nigeria was pejoratively referred to as the 'No Electricity Power Authority' (NEPA) due to blackouts and is now called the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which is difficult to play around with!

Arguably Zimbabwe's energy problems were compounded by Zanu-PF's sleeze and cronyism but now that the MDC formations are part of the government, they should tackle the challenges head on, not to engage in smoke and mirrors.

The sad truth is that load shedding is there to stay for years regardless of the name of the utility company because Zimbabwe has failed to invest in infrastructure for generating more power preferring to postpone important decisions indefinitely until crisis point with power tenders being cancelled at the last minute and others put on ice since time immemorial.

For instance, the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Power project with potential capacity of 1,600MW has been on the cards since 1993 and only got to tender in December 2012 arguably after reaching adolescence and remains a pipedream until construction starts and is projected to end in 2019.

Under pressure to seal a deal on Batoka, Zimbabwe risks offering Zambia free electricity as payment for the colonial debt in order to entice them into a quick agreement with serious implications for future generations similar to the infamous US$98 million Chinese loan for the Zanu-PF spy centre also secured under dubious circumstances, now being paid for from diamond proceeds while people drink cholera and typhoid.

It is no secret that Zimbabwe's failure to attract Independent Power Producers (IPPs) has something to do with the lack of transparency of process, uncompetitive bidding processes, unstable policy regime, inappropriate allocation of risk (e.g. surrender 51% shares now but no cash on the table) and the absence of political will as called for by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It also worth pointing out that apart from indigenisation, another thing that puts-off IPP investors is the brand itself – what you are selling. For instance some of the power plants are as old as some of the cabinet ministers, therefore, there is need for a lot of refurbishment costing millions of dollars before an investor get's value for his or her money.

While that may sound like a tall order, the progressive elements in the GNU should press for incentives for renewable energy resources to combat rural energy poverty ( e.g. tax rebates for installing solar power), and to reduce inefficiencies caused by years of dithering by an economy of affection.

With all the sunshine that is reportedly causing people to faint as happened on Monday at Heroes Acre, Zimbabwe should seriously promote the use of solar energy for cooking, lighting, computing, traffic lights, and even driving solar powered cars and so on by getting ideas and affordable technologies available in other developing countries like India.

Now, hands up those who say Zesa should change in name only?

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Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, Political Analyst, London zimanalysis2009@gmail.com


Source - Zesa
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