Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
POWER utility Zesa Holdings lost about $30 million worth of equipment due to vandalism and theft in the last 18 months, resulting in interruption of power supply in a country already grappling with power shortages.
Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company managing director Engineer Julian Chinembiri said about $15 million equipment was vandalised. An equivalent value in potential revenue was also lost as a result.
“We lost about $10 million worth of equipment last year and so far we have lost about $5 million worth of equipment this year,” the ZETDC boss said, adding “the moment they vandalise infrastructure, supply of power to the industry and domestic customers is interrupted”.
The managing director made the remarks in an interview on the sidelines of a workshop to explore effective ways to stem the tide of theft and vandalism to power infrastructure.
Eng Chinembiri said a total of $10 million in potential revenue was lost last year and in the half-year to June half of that amount is believed to have been lost due to the interruptions caused by vandalism and theft.
“For example, we gave an idea (of estimated revenue lost). As a utility, we lost close to $10 million and if we compare with last year, it means, roughly we have lost close to $5 million in revenue from January to June,” he said.
The problem was most prevalent in power infrastructure such as transformers, where oil is drained and copper components stripped, overhead wire transmission lines, which are stolen and sold locally or exported.
This comes against the backdrop where the utility is battling to raise financial resources required to maintain transmission infrastructure and finance daily operations, as it is owed about $900 million by its customers.
ZETDC is due to present a new strategy targeting $80 million collections for the billion dollars owed by customers in unpaid power bills. He said theft and vandalism was seriously affecting supply to customers.
“We know that we are load-shedding, but each time power goes off our customers think that it is load-shedding and they see that power cut is prolonged. At the end of the day, they discover that its vandalised equipment. As such, this affects power supply to our customers,” he said.
Eng Chinembiri said the power tariff levied to customers did not provide for vandalism or theft of equipment, which sees the utility diverting funds for expansion and maintenance to replacing stolen equipment.
The discussions around ways and means to curb vandalism and theft of power infrastructure comes amid concerns about the extent to which the laws provided deterrent punishment on anyone caught tampering with equipment.
Head of legal services in the Prosecutor- General’s Office Mr Admire Munowenyu said challenges arise when incorrect laws are cited when compiling charges for prosecution, affecting chances for the maximum possible sentence.
“If the mandatory sentence is five years just for possession, the law should say so, I think if we do so we would have made more progress.”
This view was shared by Superintendent Sibangilizwe Mukwena who said maximum conviction was sometimes not secured due to reference to laws that did not prescribe most deterrent sentences to convicted criminals.
He said since January, police had handled 31 serious cases of vandalism and theft of power infrastructure and were doing a lot to deter, investigate and prevent recurrence of such in collaboration with other parties.
Chief magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said the courts of law followed due process and justice delivery process and required sufficient evidence during prosecution and if that is availed conviction could be secured.