Power utility ZESA in prepaid meter storm
Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter—
More than 11 000 prepaid meters imported by Zesa were faulty as it emerged that the power utility failed to send inspectors to certify the gadgets during the manufacturing stage before their shipment, an audit has revealed. The audit said there was no evidence that Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company had used the results of a pilot project conducted at a cost of $1,5 million.
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It also emerged that the firm accepted a wrong consignment of meters destined for South Africa, a situation that inconvenienced customers and caused reputational damage to the power utility. The anomalies are contained in a 2017 audit report prepared by Auditor-General, Mrs Mildred Chiri on management of prepayment and smart metering project by the ZETDC.
It was also noted that the ZETDC diverted from project scope requiring replacement of all old conventional meters with prepaid and smart meters as it was now concentrating on new customers.
“Information on faulty meter statistics gathered from all regions indicated that the total number of prepaid meters deployed was 502 858 and at the time of audit on May 20 2016 the failed meter quantity stood at 10 426, which was well above the acceptable failure quantity of 1 508. According to project management, all prepaid meter types supplied by contractors had exhibited a high failure rate above 1 percent instead of 0,3 which was the acceptable failure rate,” said Mrs Chiri.
According to the audit, ZETDC did not inspect 68 172 installed points across all regions except the Southern region. “Despite these points not having been inspected the ZETDC went on to process payments to contractors without ensuring that the job had been properly done,” said Mrs Chiri in her report. Mrs Chiri noted that there was no financial gain from resources deployed in the initial pilot study as the ZETDC incurred a cost which did not add any value to the organisation.
“The pilot project results were not documented and there was no evidence of use of the pilot project in the implementation of the main project despite ZETDC investing $1 425 746,” read the report.
It was noted that ZETDC was not guaranteed that the lifespan of the prepaid meters would run for 15 years as per agreement after it failed to send inspectors to assess the gadgets during manufacturing stage before they were brought into the country, and that frequent meter failures were already being experienced.
“This also included site tests and approval of the product before shipment. More so the ZETDC did not perform accelerated life test to ascertain the behaviour of the meters when exposed to the network and weather conditions over the period of their lifespan,” said Mrs Chiri. The audit noted that ZETDC accepted meters with wrong Supply Group Code and this prompted changes to default SGC by staff.
“For instance, a review of internal correspondence from the Technical Support Engineer to the Revenue Assurance Manager dated October 20 2015 revealed that in the year 2013 ZETDC received a batch of 5 000 meters from Itron South Africa which was destined for Eskom. The batch had erroneously been mixed up with the Zimbabwean consignment bearing the Itron default SGC 999901. Instead of returning the batch, the ZETDC accepted this and opted to generate SGC change tokens directly from ZETDC 3E vending system. Furthermore, the ZETDC did not identify the responsible personnel or department and the applicable procedure to handle the SGC change when it was necessary during the deployment of meters,” said Mrs Chiri.
“Receiving of meters with wrong SGC was caused by ZETDC’s failure to enforce the contractual requirement which stated that meters were supposed to be coded to ZETDC SGC. Inspection procedures for receiving meter batches failed to pick this anomaly from the batch.”