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Editorial Comment: Consumers must settle their bills

THE Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company may not find many sympathisers over the US$1 billion it is owed by customers given the worsening and haphazard power cuts that Zimbabweans have had to endure, particularly in the last few months. Many have confessed they do not feel obliged to pay for electricity given the “hard bargain” by the power supplier. We do not condone this but we can understand where these emotions are coming from.

Our feedback platforms are bombarded with letters of irate consumers who feel ZETDC is one of the worst things to have happened to Zimbabwe. They feel shortchanged by a power utility that is key to their livelihood.

Whether the current power supply state is a result of the outstanding payments or vice versa is a matter of debate, but one thing for certain is that it is difficult to commiserate with an institution that is giving its customers a raw deal for months if not years on end.

ZETDC could get empathy even from consumers themselves, both industrial and domestic, if it treated them with the respect and dignity they deserve. Communication is of paramount importance in terms of clearly enunciating its problems and sticking to proper power cut schedules which we presume are drawn up after careful consideration.

This will help consumers make important decisions regarding consumption patterns and other factors at play. The public relations department has a lot of work on its hands. It has so far not fared well.

The prevailing haphazard cuts will certainly not win the day for the power company, but will only incense an already desperate consumer who will therefore relegate the energy bill to the miscellaneous part of the budget.

Proper awareness campaigns on the current state of affairs and enunciation of the reasons for the deteriorating power supply situation will cool tempers and help consumers see reason in paying up their bills.

Conversely, outside the emotional outbursts, no company would be expected to operate viably if it is owed such a colossal amount. It could actually be a chicken and egg situation where consumers should pay their bills so that ZETDC can deliver better service.

Indeed US$1 billion is no small change. Moreso given the current limitations in terms of electricity generation and transmission. ZETDC can use every cent it can get.
A disturbing trend, however, is that Zimbabweans in general have in the last few years developed a penchant of not paying their bills.

While ZETDC is worried by the outstanding US$1 billion, the Harare City Council is mourning because it is owed millions of dollars in unpaid water bills despite a reprieve last year that saw most domestic debts cancelled.

The banking sector has also reported huge amounts in bad debts as borrowers fail to pay up or service their debts.
Of course the liquidity situation and a generally challenging economy accounts for this, but in many instances it has become a habit that needs to be nipped in the bud. We should all just pay our bills, even in small amounts so that we continue to enjoy the services we so much need in our daily lives.

As consumers we need to feel obliged to pay what we owe to enable the service providers to improve their operations. Where genuine challenges exist, payment plans can always be worked out where the service provider and the consumer reach a compromise.

Indeed times are challenging but a lot can be done to improve service delivery while encouraging consumers to also meet their end of the bargain.
For ZETDC, the installation of pre-paid meters should resolve the debt situation to a large extent.

The programme needs to move with speed so that consumers can use only that which they can afford while also reducing the debt as a percentage is deducted each time they pay.

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