VERNON Mwaanga says load shedding has reached crisis proportion.
Mwaanga argues that something is seriously wrong at Zesco and the government should not bury their head in the sand.
“They should be pro-active in finding a solution. Zesco is a large government inefficient, over-employed and bankrupt parastatal organisation, which is also being abused and used as a cash cow by some members of the ruling party,” he charged. “I have been saying for a long time now, that Zesco should be unbundled and divided into two separate companies to deal with production and distribution, just as many countries in Africa and elsewhere have done.”
He said it could not be denied that Zesco load shedding to business houses and private households, had now reached crisis proportion.
“What is even more disturbing, advertised load shedding schedules being regularly published by Zesco are not being followed at all, making any kind of planning virtually impossible,” Mwaanga said. “I am painfully aware that the poor rains experienced last season are the contributing factor to this serious state of affairs.”
The veteran politician said lack of government foresight and excessive dependence on hydro power had come to bite Zambians.
“Some large business houses, hotels, lodges and others in the hospitality industry have had to invest in costly large commercial diesel or petrol powered generators in order to survive. A few people are also using solar panels. The poor small businesses – and they constitute an overwhelming majority – who cannot afford to buy generators, solar panels or inventors are finding it harder and harder to survive,” he observed. “When load shedding started, we were all under the impression that all power users would participate in burden sharing while government through Zesco come up with viable solutions, at least, to reduce the energy problems corporates and citizens are experiencing. This is not happening at all.”
Mwaanga said there were non-essential areas in Lusaka and elsewhere in the country, where load shedding was infrequently being experienced or not being experienced at all.
“It is also on record that Zesco continues to honour electricity export agreements to neighbouring countries, when there should have been normal clauses in these power supply export agreements, permitting Zesco to declare force majeure in times like this,” he said. “It is also a fact that Zesco is a poor payer of indebtedness going back to the last time we had load shedding two years ago. They have not paid their indebtedness to the Mozambican Utility Company and to Eskom of South Africa. Even local companies producing renewable energy like Maamba Coal Mine and Ndola Energy Company, are either not being paid or receiving only part payment. This is an unacceptable business practice, because these suppliers are not charitable institutions but business enterprises, which are supposed to run on sound business principles. End users of Zesco power have to buy their units in advance, before they can access Zesco power, unlike in the past when they used to send monthly bills for power which had already been consumed.”
Mwaanga noted that many people in response to the excessive load shedding had now turned to using charcoal for boiling water to bath, cooking, washing dishes, pots, clothes and ironing clothes “using the almost forgotten charcoal irons, which are back in use.”
He said the situation meant that charcoal business was beginning to boom and would boom even more as the load shedding situation gets progressively worse in the next few months.
Mwaanga said the biggest loser would be the national environment as people cut more and more trees to feed what was already a growing and thriving charcoal trade.
“Immediate and long term solutions must be taken by government to stop Zesco from exporting power. They should also ensure that Zesco starts importing power from Eskom in South Africa and the Mozambican Power Utility Company and pay for it,” advised Mwaanga. “Most importantly, government should urgently invite both local and international investors to come and invest in renewable energy enterprises and even offer them tax incentives for a limited period of time. Reliance on hydro power is no longer a smart or realistic option for our country because climate change is real and has come to stay. Smart countries in our continent have started to embark on finding lasting solutions, because this is the only way to go in the 21st century.”