Mangoma’s astonishing achievement

I came home this weekend to find our suburb in darkness – at about 8pm the lights came back on and when I got up at just after five this morning they were still on but went out at 7am and we do not expect the lights to be back until midday. After four years of intense struggle to get the power situation normalized, the MDC Minister, Elton Mangoma, was able to get power supplies back to some semblance of normalcy. Why this has not remained the case in the few weeks since he stepped down, is

Former Energy Minister Elton Mangoma: stopped rampant corruption at state fuel agencies.
Former Energy Minister Elton Mangoma: stopped rampant corruption at state fuel agencies.

Mangoma, a Chartered Accountant who runs a large business of his own, is a tough character and very determined. He achieved a great deal in his three short years as minister – sorting out the national liquid fuels situation after more than a decade of shortages and queues. He stopped the rampant corruption in the state fuel agencies and was able to start the long process of getting the power sector sorted out.

The major power plants were all repaired and stabilized, unpaid debts with regional power utilities were sorted out and two major contracts issued to bring new power generation capacity into production. Prepaid meters were rolled out and in the last few months of his tenure, power supplies were actually quite normal. He unbundled the electricity and liquid fuels parastatals, established a new Energy Regulator and rationalized retail distribution.

Anyone who knows anything about governments and sensitive areas such as energy will recognise the above as an astonishing achievement – without a cent of international assistance. It was not without resistance – he was jailed twice on spurious charges after he moved to stop the high level corruption that had seen the former running elite siphon off about $150 million a year from the state agencies trading in fuel. When he stepped down fuel was in free supply at prices below the rest of the region and electricity supplies were almost back to normal.

The new Minister will find this a hard act to follow. The new government has undermined the fragile financial stability of the electricity sector by abolishing the outstanding debts owed to the utility and passing a credit to all who are paid up to date. At a stroke this wiped out hundreds of millions of dollars of debt assets and has seen revenues plunging.

Regional suppliers who were happy to step in with support when we were short, now ask if we are able to pay our bills? Talk of resurrecting the Zimbabwe dollar, and with it the associated ills of exchange control and import controls, has seen all suppliers withhold deliveries in case they are caught with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt inside Zimbabwe that simply cannot be serviced. Suddenly shortages have resurfaced – there are long power outages and fuel stations are running out of fuel.

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