IMPLEMENTING President Edgar Lungu’s directive on not load-shedding hospitals and water treatment plants will be expensive, says energy minister Mathew Nkhuwa.
And Nkhuwa says consumers will have to bear the cost of the US$20 million that will be paid to import electricity from South Africa.
Speaking on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview programme, Nkhuwa said the recent presidential directive would not be easy to implement.
“That is the directive given by the Head of State and…I have also passed on that directive already to Zesco and I have also told IDC [Industrial Development Corporation] which supervises Zesco that they have to do something. The trouble is that you have got a hospital where you are sitting here and there are many houses this side and there is only one line. So if you switch off that line obviously, the hospital will go off,” he explained.
“It is a very expensive exercise but we have to start from somewhere. It’s something we have to probably do, maybe it is cheaper to buy generators. It will be quick, whatever is going to be quicker we have to look at it. But for now, we must say that it is an expensive thing. We have to have maybe a redundant line or a dedicated line to the hospital or to have a by-pass somehow. So it is not an easy thing but it is a directive by the Head of State. Definitely, even on water, that’s a directive that the President made and I have also issued that directive to the respective people to make sure that this doesn’t happen anymore.”
Last Friday, President Lungu said he was aware of some health facilities going without power for long periods of time.
“I begin to wonder how our health workers are looking after our patients without water and electricity which are both extremely important and a human necessity within the management of patients,” said President Lungu. “In view of that, I’m directing the Ministry of Energy, from midnight tonight, to prioritise power supply to hospitals and health centres. Further, the Ministry of Energy [should] prioritise power supply to our water supply operations. This is a very serious matter that should not be taken lightly.”
Meanwhile, Nkhuwa said the cost of importing electricity would have to be passed on to consumers because Zesco would not afford to pay for the cost.
“Importing power from South Africa will cost US$13.5 million for the power and then there are wheeling charges and costs that are coming and then it goes to $20.5 million. And $20.5 million is for 300 megawatts. It’s basically what we are buying the power from Maamba, for example. So that is for one month,” he said.
“And what is going to happen is, we want to pass on that extra money because, otherwise, Zesco will not afford to pay for the power.”
The minister said there was no alternative to reopening the issue of tariffs.
“The immediate solution is to import power. That’s the only immediate solution, with 300 megawatts and if we can get another 300 to 400 megawatts from Mozambique, then we can reduce the number of hours of load management. If we can get 700 megawatts, then we will be home and dry for the rest of the period,” he said.
“Mind you, I think that this load management will only last from this time up to I think December and after December I think we will have some water. I am faithful that we’ll have some water in our dams.”
Asked by programme host Grevazio Zulu on why the treasury couldn’t subsidise the import costs, Nkhuwa said it was not able to do so.
” … how does the treasury come in? They’re not the ones using the power. The people using the power must pay for it,” he said. “Subsidise? Yes, if we had money we would. But right now you know, we have been doing the roads. If you come to my constituency in Chingola, the Chingola you knew many years ago… and all these costs money. So if we now start subsidising electricity and we start subsidising fuel and so on, where is money for development going to come from?”
Nkhuwa reiterated that the $20 million “import levy” would be passed on to consumers.
“The way it’s going to be … Zesco is working out the modalities and it will be communicated to the people. What is happening now is that we will probably have a line on the bill which will be called levy, import levy. So that import levy will be there and you can see that this is the extra you are paying and thereafter when we stop importing, that line will drop off automatically. Zambians are basically importing this power,” said Nkhuwa. “Government is facilitating … that’s our job, to facilitate. To make sure that people have power. I think if you were given an option even you Grevazio in your home, if you are told that can you pay a little be more on power or we don’t give you power I think you would choose to pay a little bit more to get the power. … The nation is not spending $20 million [on importing power]. The people that would be using the power will pay for that power. So the ones that don’t want to use that power, they will not get it. The ones that feel that they need the power, they will get it. I think it’s better that you make it available. We have to make it available to the people and you tell them that this power you will pay extra. And I think it’s a better choice you have got than not to have. So the choice will be yours if you want to use that power or you don’t want to use it.”