Zanu (PF) to cut electricity arrears ahead of by-election

The government is set to cut 30 percent of electricity arrears ahead of by-elections scheduled to take place on June 10.

Dr Samuel Undenge
Dr Samuel Undenge

The announcement was made last week by Minister of Energy and Power Development Dr Samuel Undenge during a rally to drum up support for the Zanu (PF) candidate for Dangamvura-Chikanga constituency, Esau Mupfumi. “We understand that ratepayers have a huge debt. But if you come and settle your arrears we will apply debt redemption. The redemption will apply to those who pay up 70 percent of their outstanding electricity arrears. Your debt will be cancelled immediately after that,” said Undenge, who is also Zanu (PF) acting provincial chairperson.

The country’s sole power utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), is facing serious financial challenges. The ill-advised measure comes at a time when ZESA Holdings’ subsidiary, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC), is owed close to $1 billion by electricity consumers.

Domestic customers owe over $300 million, public lighting $27 million, mining and industries $244 million, while commercial and agriculture owe the utility $351 million and $75 million respectively. The power utility, which is grappling to come up with measures to put its house in order, has proposed to trade off its debt to banks as a way of recovering close to a billion dollars it is owed by consumers.

“It is an idea that we are still pursuing, that banks can buy our debt and we do a discount on the amount and the banks get the actual amount from the customers. The difference is we will get the debt at once,” ZETDC managing director Julian Chinembiri told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy. But this deal will be scuppered as Zanu (PF) seems set to use its political muscle to direct the parastatal to write off arrears as it seeks to reclaim all the vacant seats it lost during the 2013 polls and those left vacant after its expelled MPs and Renewal Team legislators were recalled from Parliament.

Many seats are at stake and Zanu (PF) is leaving no stone unturned to regain them on June 10. Vice President Phekezela Mphoko endorsed the populist decision and suggested similar measures could be taken regarding water bill arrears.

“This is to show you that we have the people at heart and our Minister of Energy (Dr Undenge) has demonstrated that, would you want similar privileges in water? Our Minister of (Environment,) Water (and Climate) Kasukuwere can look into it,” he said amid wild cheers from the crowd that gathered at Dangamvura Beit Hall.

Prior to the 2013 polls Zanu (PF) ordered Zesa to write off a total of $80 million owed by resettled and rural farmers and $90 million by domestic customers. All domestic customers further benefitted from a $160 debt relief per household. The debt cancellation plunged the power utility into a financial crisis from which it has not recovered.

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