ZESA turns to whistleblowers


…As vandalism and theft cost the utility $9m annually


ZESA Holdings has set up a whistleblower programme to help flush out ruffians damaging its infrastructure amid revelations that vandalism costs the power utility a whopping $9m annually.

Theft and vandalism have been rife, threatening the viability of the state-owned company. It also has environmental, maintenance, and energy implications.

Last week, the power utility set up a whistleblower programme to reward those who report suspected theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure.

“Power supplies has been greatly compromised by increasing cases of theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure that have resulted in unplanned electricity outages,” the power utility said, adding: “Theft and vandalism has resulted in increased faults leading to frequent and long power outages that some clients perceive to be load-shedding.”

The company is therefore inviting whistleblowers to volunteer information that would lead to the arrest of perpetrators of theft and vandalism. Rewards would be given in proven cases.

ZESA spokesperson, Fullard Gwasira, told Business Times this week that the power utility was facing a worrisome challenge caused by the upsurge in vandalism and theft. This, he said, continued to cripple energy supply and economic growth, deepening the country’s power woes.

The power utility incurs heavy costs and direct losses in millions of dollars annually. This is a major setback for all stakeholders as electricity supply is part of the key factors expected to drive economic recovery.

The level of vandalism of infrastructure is now outstripping the replacement rate, which is constrained by cash flow challenges.

Gwasira disclosed that vandals were targeting transformers for oil, copper conductors and cables which they export to buyers in both commercial and black markets, mainly in South Africa, Botswana and overseas. They are being shipped to Asia, especially China.

“The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) is incurring an annual estimated loss of $8.568m due to the scourge of theft and vandalism, a development that has resulted in about 17,000 consumers going without electricity as power infrastructure is interfered with by some malcontents,” Gwasira told Business Times.

So far, the power utility has lost 1,735 transformers due to theft and vandalism.

“It is estimated that a domestic customer pays an average of $42 per month and the concerned unplanned power outages due to such illegal interferences with electricity networks and infrastructure translate to a $714,000 loss of revenue per month or an annual loss of $8,568,000 to the power utility,” Gwasira added.

He said such higher “magnitudes of losses are also being incurred when some major power consumers in mining, industry, commercial or retail businesses, among others, go without electricity due to theft and vandalism.

“Scrap copper dealers who have created a market for stolen copper and vandals are also taking advantage of the opportunity that the market has presented,” he said.

“On the other hand, most of the dealers have exhibited unethical behaviour by absorbing the contraband knowing it to have been stolen. It has also been proved that Licenced Copper or Scrap Dealers are the conduits that facilitate this menace although some may not be involved.”

There has not been any copper mining in Zimbabwe since the closure of Mhangura Mine in the 1990s and vandals are now mining copper from the infrastructure of the country’s power utility.

Apart from licenced copper and scrap metal dealers, it is understood that the majority of vandalism and theft is being executed by a well-coordinated criminal cartel, which has strong backing from corrupt but powerful government officials who are reported to be protecting the rogue elements. Former employees of ZESA are also said to be heavily involved in the act.

Gwasira said vandalism and theft was caused by disparities and disharmony of legislative provisions in Zimbabwe.

“The upsurge in theft and vandalism is being caused by disparities that are inherent in the country’s legislation, especially the Copper Control Act Chapter 14:06, the Electricity Act Chapter 13:19, the Post and Telecommunications Act, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe Act Chapter 21:04 as well as the Second Hand Goods Act,” Gwasira said.

“It is recommended that these pieces of legislation be harmonised by incorporating mandatory sentences in all the provisions so that it would be a deterrent to would-be offenders.”

The Copper Control Act provides for a mandatory sentence of 3 months custodial sentence while other related legislation provide for 10-year mandatory custodial sentences.

He said dealers were also taking advantage of the disharmony of legislative provisions to circumvent the systems by exporting scrap under the Second Hand Goods Act as opposed to the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe Act Chapter 21:04, S.I. 39 of 2005.

The position, Gwasira said, was compromised by the fact that scrap falls within the definition of a mineral under this provision.

“It is also recommended that attention be paid to section 4 (1) of the Copper Control Act Chapter 14:06 that stipulates that holders of licences are not exempt from compliance with others laws relating to business and other licences. Therefore, there is the need for a holistic approach in applying these laws if we are to safeguard our hard earned assets,” he added.

Locally, cases have been reported where transformer oil has been stolen and mixed with diesel to be sold as fuel or mixed with vegetable oil and sold as cooking oil.

The development comes at a time when the power utility is struggling to generate enough electricity. The country is currently generating about 1,300 megawatts (MW) of power against a national demand of 1,700 MW at peak periods.