The Sunday News
Vusumuzi Dube, Senior Municipal Reporter
THE fight between power utility Zesa and the Bulawayo City Council has gone a notch higher with the local authority taking the power utility to task over what it says are high electricity charges, it has been learnt.
According to a council confidential report, the local authority had to dispatch its audit team to scrutinise Zesa billing system to BCC and it was discovered over 40 percent of council’s accounts between 2016 and 2018 were being over charged owing to “prolonged estimation of meter readings by Zesa”.
Further the audit unravelled that in some instances the power utility had duplicated accounts with one scenario where 60 accounts were linked to a single tower light number.
“The city owns more than 200 properties, approximately 40 000 street lights and has over 90 intersections regulated by traffic lights. During the audit, the city had 1 008 electricity accounts with Zesa. We analysed a sample of 1 392 accounts statements drawn from the financial years 2016 to 2018 and found that 449 of these accounts were overbilled. We further analysed the overbilled accounts and noted that was due to prolonged estimation of meter readings by Zesa.
“During the analysis of Zesa accounts we noted a total of 30 duplicated accounts which share similar meter points. Further, a total of 60 accounts were linked to similar tower light number. Further analysis indicated that these accounts had different meter numbers despite the fact they were billed for the same meter points,” reads part of the council report.
As proof of the power utility estimating some of the local authority’s accounts, the audit report states that they were 51 cases where it was discovered that the keys to the meters were long lost while in some cases while the keys were available they could not open the locks due to rust.
“During the physical verification exercise we failed to locate a total of 109 meter points. We also noted 10 metered points that were wrongly billed by Zesa, nine of the cases involved street lights which were billed on a commercial tariff instead of public lighting tariff. The other case is that of the Bulawayo pool which was billed on a commercial tariff instead of an institutional tariff. In all the cases, the Zesa tariffs were marginally higher. During the physical verification exercise we observed a total of 27 meters which either had stopped, been vandalised or were missing,” reads the report.
In terms of billing council pumping stations it was revealed that the power utility bills the local authority as profit making entities such as commercial, industrial and mining entities despite the fact that municipalities are non-profit making entities. The audit also noted that there were some instances with relation to council leased out properties where leases were not fully paying for their electricity usage.
“We reviewed 10 lease agreements for the leases and found that the terms and conditions of the lease agreements relating to payment of electricity vary. We noted that the clauses stipulating the payment of electricity bills were inconsistent. There are four different clauses. The first clause states that the lease shall pay electricity charges at tariffs applicable to the area in question.
“The second lease agreement requires the lease to pay a fixed monthly rental which is inclusive of water and electricity charges despite the fact that the premises are connected to metered electricity. The third clause stipulates that the lease shall pay 68 percent of 30 percent of water and electricity charges incurred by the city. And the final clause is silent on how the lease should pay for electricity consumption,” reads the report.
The audit also noted that the power utility was inconsistent in the delivery of account statements, where in 2016 they failed to deliver 328 statements while in 2018, 296 statements were not delivered to the local authority.
“Based on our review of how the city manages electricity utility accounts, we found that the city has not developed a sufficient internal control framework over electricity account management. As a result there is overbilling of accounts with the current systems and controls unable to pick this and other billing errors,” reads part of the conclusion from the audit team.
Contacted for comment Zesa spokesman Mr Fullard Gwasira said his company needed to see the audit first before taking appropriate measures.
“We need to see that audit report, we need to thoroughly check on the meters and see whether their allegations are factual. In the absence of all this we will be dealing with heresy. What I am basically saying is let them send the audit report to us, we get our technical guys to see it then we can give a substantive response,” said Mr Gwasira.
Zesa and BCC have been at each other’s throats for the past 10 years with the initial cause of the unprecedented fight being the control of the Bulawayo Power Station and the failure by the power utility to pay royalties for the use of the power station. At one point Zesa had to disconnect electricity from council’s tower block, revenue hall and Large City Hall over a ballooning debt and as a sign of defiance the local authority went for over a year powering these facilities using generators.