The Sunday News
Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
RESIDENTS and businesses, including hotels and tour operators in Victoria Falls spent the whole of last week without water after Zesa disconnected power at the council pump station located on the Zambezi River.
Victoria Falls City Council owes Zesa more than $21 million for power supply and the amount has been accumulating over time resulting in the disconnection early last week. This comes less than a week after the local authority officially took over management of raw water pumping from Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) which had been managing the pump house.
High density residents were the worst affected as there are no alternative water sources and people queued at the main Chinotimba reservoir, oblivious of the danger of spreading or contracting Covid-19. Tourism operators and hotels were beginning to feel the effects as their reservoirs were drying up.
Industry players under the banner of the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe engaged council officials on Friday where it was resolved that the local authority should formally engage Zesa authorities at Hwange Power Station. On Friday, council officials met their Zesa counterparts to try and come up with an agreement to solve the problem.
The two parties reached an agreement and Zesa agreed to restore power after the local authority made a payment plan and committed to pay $2,5 million per month until the debt is cleared. The power utility also owes council close to $2 million in unpaid water bills while there is also a pending court case where ZETDC, a subsidiary of Zesa has failed to pay servitude to all councils countrywide hence local authorities took the matter to the courts.
Victoria Falls Mayor Councillor Somveli Dlamini said going forward there would be a need for proper engagement between council and other State entities as “we are all arms of the Government and providing service to the same citizens.”
“The council has a debt but it’s not that we dispute it. We sat as a council and went to engage Zesa management and came up with a payment plan. We paid something today as part of the debt,” he said.
Clr Dlamini said the debt ballooned because of limited revenue flows.
“Our financial position is not good at the moment as people are not paying rates because of effects of Covid-19 while at the same time we are in the process of reviewing rates downwards. Zesa agreed to our position and to restore power,” he said.
He could not be drawn into talking about what the power utility owes council saying that would be prejudicial as part of it is servitude debt and the matter is in court. ZETDC spokesperson Ms Prisca Utete could not comment on the issue as she referred questions to the local authority.
Victoria Falls public relations and economic development officer Mr Ngqabutho Moyo said the council owes Zesa $21 228 701,46 which he said accumulated largely because of constant upward reviews of electricity tariffs while council water charges remain stagnant.
The power utility owes council $1 121 770,87 in unpaid water dues.
“There is an arrangement to pay the power utility $2 500 000 per month in the coming months. What affects our standing arrangement are continued upwards tariff reviews by Zesa while our water tariffs remain stagnant causing the balance to balloon.
“If cash flows improve with the expected economic turnaround, the figure will be reviewed upwards to keep both utilities afloat and operational. The debt accumulated over time due to very low revenue inflows from the local authority’s revenue collection base which include individual households, restricted business operating hours and our hard hit tourism industry,” said Mr Moyo.
He said there would be continuous engagement between the two entities while the council is considering investing in solar back-up and boreholes at various locations. Stand-by generators will be a last resort.
Water supplies had not been restored yesterday. — @ncubeleon