THE Minister of Energy and Power Development, Cde Fortune Chasi, who was appointed to the portfolio recently, has hit the ground running and is taking no prisoners in his quest to bring normalcy to departments under his purview.
A proven performer in his former deployment as deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Cde Chasi has been handed a more challenging assignment which he has embraced with aplomb. Some might say he was given a poisoned chalice when President Mnangagwa appointed him a full Cabinet Minister but his track record suggests that he will tackle his latest deployment with the energy and tenacity required to resolve the multi-faceted challenges facing the nation.
Fuel shortages are a long standing problem for Zimbabwe and the new Minister has to find ways of ensuring that queues become a thing of the past. In this industry, he has to contend with cartels that are holding the nation to ransom. He has the support of the President and Cabinet which has approved principles of amendments to the Competition Act to strengthen the fight against cartels and monopolies.
Already, fuel supplies have improved with queues disappearing in major towns and cities since last week. On power, Minister Chasi has wasted no time in dealing with the malfeasance and lethargy at the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. On Friday, he fired the entire Zesa board for failing to “appreciate the urgency of the situation we are in”.
In arriving at the decision, Minister Chasi said the country is battling acute electricity shortages, and the board was not doing much to address the power challenges. He said he would replace the board with people who do not wait for monthly or quarterly meetings to address the power challenges confronting the nation. “I have fired the Zesa board,” said Minister Chasi.
Asked why he had sacked the board which was only appointed on March 19 this year, Minister Chasi said: “I want people who appreciate the urgency of the situation we are in. I did not see that in them. The challenges at Zesa are deep-seated and they need people who are hands-on, who will not wait for a quarterly meeting or monthly meeting or things like that. So I will be looking around for men and women of integrity who have the experience, who are proven, not academic persons.”
The new board would be made up of people who will give the nation and the market the right signals that Government is serious about turning around Zesa. We welcome his intervention and hope the new board will steer Zesa in the right direction. New brooms always sweep clean and the rot at Zesa, which had reached epic proportions, needs strong leadership to eradicate.
As a strategic parastatal, Zesa needs men and women of impeccable credentials and proven competence. Minister Chasi has therefore laid down a marker that he will not tolerate lethargy, slothfulness and incompetence at such key institutions as Zesa. With rolling power outages of close to 10 hours daily, Zimbabwe is looking for solutions from Zesa not excuses.
We are glad that is already happening as reports at the weekend indicated that Government will this week release US$5 million for the refurbishment of one of the two largest units at Hwange Power station as part of contingency measures to ease the current power shortages. Negotiations with South African power utility Eskom and Mozambique’s Hydro Electrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB) for a debt clearance plan and additional power imports are underway.
Refurbishment of Unit 6 at HPS, which is expected to take up to two months, will unlock an additional 170 megawatts to augment supplies. Zimbabwe is producing 1 270MW against a winter peak demand of over 1 700 MW, leaving the country with a yawning deficit of around 450MW. ZETDC acting managing director Engineer Ralph Katsande said authorities are exploring both demand and supply-side options to address the power shortages.
“The first way we are trying to address this problem is through our own internal generation,” said Eng Katsande.
“We are trying to increase capacity at Hwange, even though it’s an old thermal plant, and we are working on refurbishing Unit 6, which requires about US$5 million to repair the turbine, then we get an additional 170MW. That on its own will reduce load-shedding by the same amount.”
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) have since made an undertaking to release the funds “in the next few days”. Sourcing power from Eskom and HCB is also being considered. Despite the US$80 million debt owed to the two utilities, Government is negotiating for a payment plan and additional imports.
Eng Katsande said there were plans to source 400MW from South Africa during off-peak periods as the country was also grappling with insufficient power supplies.
It will also enable Zesa to ease pressure on Kariba, where the progressively dwindling water levels in the Zambezi River continues to affect output.
We hope the contingency measures come to fruition so that the country is spared longer periods of load shedding.