ZESA contributing to residents suffering

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) is increasingly finding it difficult to use engagement as a tool to assist residents experiencing unexplained load shedding, inflated bills and inhuman power disconnections.

During the period from 28 May to 8 June 2012, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) employees and officials from its subsidiary Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) went to various suburbs disconnecting electricity from defaulting residents. These disconnections were conducted in a most humiliating and unprofessional manner.

Residents have been angered by the unrepentant attitude of the leadership at ZESA, and believe it is time to direct confront this attitude, through massive resistance to their bully tactics.

The HRT has received numerous cases from residents from different suburbs seeking the organisation to facilitate engagement on payment plans and reconnections. The feedback from residents show poor reception and inhuman treatment in cases of the unemployed, widows and orphans who have been told to pay up their inflated bills, in full first, before power is reconnected.

Residents particularly are concerned that ZESA’s focus is on revenue generation than on improving their billing system, attending to residents problems, increasing power generation capacity and adhering to their published load shedding timetables.

From reports received from our residents’ committee leaders across Harare, with the highest recorded cases coming from Glen Norah, Mufakose, Highfield and Mabvuku, there is increasing concern that ZESA is inconsiderate of their poor socio-economic statuses. They say ZESA is not accepting responsibility for its own shortcomings in providing electricity to them as consumers. There is genuine concern that ZESA has ceased to be reasonable and professional in the discharge of its mandate. While this is ongoing, ZESA has also failed to recover its money owed by senior government officials who continue to use electricity for free yet the poor majority is being disconnected.

Instead of ZESA trying to be a partner of residents living far below the poverty datum line, now around US$540-00, the national power utility is increasingly becoming more aggressive and arrogant in its debt collection, particularly in high density suburbs. Given their low incomes, most residents have been forced to use the little cash in their households to purchase alternative sources of energy like candles, firewood, solar panels and paraffin, which are highly priced for the poor majority.

ZESA is inconsiderate towards expecting mothers and others awaiting surgery. Even the people in the home industries have suffered in silence without any recourse in sight. For example, the Gazaland Home Industries in Western Triangle in Highfield high density suburb has a huge population of dedicated Zimbabweans who are only trying to earn a living but have to endure lengthy periods without any electricity, depriving them of much needed income to settle their financial obligations.

The majority of residents are defaulting out of frustration because ZESA has not been accountable given widespread estimated billing, lengthy load shedding and a poor debt management system. As a direct impact of this, most residents are protesting against ZESA. According to reports received from Glen Norah bills range from US$ 49 to US$ 12,000 indicating that some residents are being charged commercial rates, signifying that power disconnections are not the solution.

As HRT we recommend that ZESA should speed up the process of installing pre-paid meters for accountability and transparency in its billing after canceling debts accrued from February 2009 to December 2010. ZESA should also re-calculate residents’ bills which have accumulated using a faulty billing system.

Instead of using bullish tactics on cash strapped citizens, ZESA should target the real defaulters whose debts were made public- the senior government officials.

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