ZESA angers Glen Norah residents

ZESA has adopted punitive measures to defaulting residents here who have not been paying their electricity bills consistently by embarking in wide spread electricity disconnections.

Residents in the area have various reasons why they have not been settling their monthly electricity bills. Residents feel that electricity bills are based on estimates and are not a true reflection of the consumption at household level, load shedding and faulty billing. This has frustrated some breadwinners in the community who earn way below the poverty datum line.

This has left them with what they said “no reason to pay electricity bills”. This contradicts the HRT policy which advocates for shared responsibility between residents and service providers in service delivery. From the HRT’s perspective, residents should exhibit their responsibility in service delivery mainly by paying bills for services rendered. However, rates should be affordable for the good of the greater public.

Having received the reports of massive power disconnections from the Glen Norah B’ Residents’ Committee (GRC), that is responsible for monitoring and evaluating community service delivery by service providers, the HRT facilitated a mobile case work clinic in the area.

From the interviews held by the HRT Membership Officer, Simbarashe Majamanda, HRT Community Coordinator Ms Abigail Itayi and the HRT Programs Intern, Mr Marshall Masiyazi from the Midlands State University on Tuesday 29 May 2012 in Glen Norah B Community, the dire economic situation of the country has affected the capacity of residents to pay electricity bills. Most residents appreciated that they have an obligation to pay for their electricity but they have failed due to their socio-economic status. Eighty-nine (89) reports from 53 women and 36 men were received and documented by the HRT team within three hours at one of the households in the community.

The local Member of Parliament Honourable Gift Dzirutwe is seriously concerned with the situation. He has helped the residents to deal with the situation through sharing information and providing transport to the ZESA offices in the city centre.

The following key issues came from the interviews:

1. Economic problems: Elderly men and women interviewed aged between 59 and 75 said they lack a source of income which has affected their capacity to settle their electricity bills. Elderly women said that most of them are widowed and they rely mostly on vending activities which does not give them much money for survival. As vendors they also face challenges from the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Municipal Police who conduct raids in the name of illegal vending activities. This clearly shows that they also lack access to designated vending points or that they do not afford them if they are available.

2. Faulty billing: Residents said that even if they make payments to ZESA, the debt continues to sky rocket. “It appears making a payment is an indication that you have a bit of money that ZESA can suck from you” said one elderly man aged 85 who showed that he does not have any hope to clear his debt which currently stands at $954.21 Account Number 283786651. The man went on to say that he was prepared to pay $45.00 per month for electricity.

3. Growing insecurity: There is a feeling that residents may lose their properties just as what happened to three households in Mabvuku after debt collectors confiscated their properties due to outstanding water rates in February 2012. Elderly women said that the high debts have caused insecurity to their children who are the heirs to their properties which they have also not fully acquired from council under the “rent to buy program”.

4. Unprofessional conduct by ZESA employees: Some of the interviewees revealed that ZESA officials are very uncooperative and hostile whenever they attempt seeking detailed explanations on their accounts. Residents in the area have resorted to bribing ZESA employees around $30.00 to avoid disconnection of electricity. Several residents have done this in the community and continue to fall prey to the ZESA employees.

5. Transition to multicurrency system: Although the ZESA Public Relations Officer, Mr Fullard Gwasira reported to HRT Communications Officer, Mr Shingayi Jena that ZESA indicated that ZESA scrapped off debts from residents accounts following the transition from the Zimbabwe dollar era to the multi-currency regime in February 2009, residents in the area are of the view that the transition was ill- managed and lacked transparency. From the residents’ viewpoint, the debts have accumulated largely due to estimated billing, the manipulated transition from the local currency to the multi-currency system, and the interest charged on overdue accounts.

Current situation: HRT offices are overwhelmed by residents who have ZESA complaints and they require ZESA’s assistance. The HRT Membership Desk is receiving reports of unprofessional conduct by the Harare ZESA Sales Managers specifically the ZESA Sales Manager who are telling referred clients that they are not prepared to read HRT referral letters in which the HRT writes to seek their intervention on individual cases. ZESA is saying that residents whose electricity was disconnected are supposed to settle their bills in full.

According to one female client this morning, the ZESA sales manager told her that he was not going to read her letter. She mentioned that she is prepared to pay $50.00 per month. She was advised that she could pay the $50.00 per month until her debt is cleared then her electricity would be reconnected. Last week, some clients were assisted by the Sales Manager but it was upon payment of 25% of the debt which was reduced to the previous 50% requirement. There is growing tension between ZESA and the residents of Glen Norah. Some residents have resorted to reconnecting power illegally which is contrary to the HRT policy. They have and are also using the few dollars they had reserved to paying their electricity for other pressing needs at household level.

If the situation continues, ZESA employees face the risk of experiencing a backlash from disgruntled residents. It is up to ZESA to treat residents with respect or regret their uncalled for actions. It is time to change the approach or be forced to change the approach! The choice is for ZESA to make.

This will not benefit ZESA or the resident. We need to be realistic to address residents’ needs as well as the capacity needs of ZESA as the service provider.

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