PLANS TO UNBUNDLE ZESCO LTD SHOULD NOT BE A RUSHED PROCESS BUT A PRODUCT OF CONSENSUS BUILDING:
First and foremost it is a fact that state utilities have been the major players in the electricity sub sector in Africa although some countries are also pondering changing their business models in line with global trends.
Therefore plans to restructure the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation ( ZESCO) LTD by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) which may eventually lead to the unbundling of the power utility looks good at face value however there is need to be extra cautious as electricity drives the engine of economic development and as such in my view the process should not be rushed but should be a product of consensus building among key stakeholders to avoid repeating the mistakes of privatisation which looked very good on paper in initial stages but the post privatisation era was not a success story to write home about as it’s scars are still visible especially on the copperbelt.
I remember during our time in the union the National Energy Sector and Allied Worker’s Union (NESAWU) took a strong stance against privatisation and unbundling which was being spearheaded by the IMF and the world bank and as such we strongly opposed plans by the then MMD government to either privatise or unbundle the power utility based on the experiences we gathered from other countries such as Uganda which was the pioneer country in sub saharan africa to unbundle it’s power utility but we instead supported commercialisation benchmarks as an alternative business model and the same was endorsed by the world bank and for the first time in many years ZESCO declared dividends to the government.
Although Uganda has registered some success in terms of improved revenue collections, connections and investments just to mention but a few the same has not been replicated in countries like Ivory coast while currently South Africa is also debating whether to unbundle it’s state power utility ESKOM or not
While unbundling of the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) LTD MAY lead to improved efficiency,revenue collection and promote investment opportunities however the same will come at the great cost to a Zambian consumer as the cost of electricity shall go up because of anticipated increase in overhead costs.
Even assuming that ZESCO is unbundled as being proposed by the IDC we expect possibly three companies to be born out of such a process namely; generation, transmission and distribution thereby lengthening the electricity supply chain and as such these companies will have their independent management structures and board of directors to manage these firms and this of course will come at a great cost to Zambian electricity consumers.
Further in 2005,the Mwanawasa government made a bold decision to intergrate Kariba North Bank Corporation (KNBC) into ZESCO and in fact the union supported the move because it was made in national interest because before the move, ZESCO used to buy power from KNBC which was never the case after the two companies were almagamated therefore the question to ask ourselves is did the intergration of KNBC into ZESCO bear positive results or not?
It is my considered view point that the challenges facing ZESCO today are well known facts and the cure lies in depoliticizing the firm and as such I don’t think unbundling is an answer to the current challenges the company is facing as the only cure is divorcing politics from the company and thus the only sure way the company can run as a business entity and ensuring that the best human capital is appointed to management positions to run the firm efficiently and profitably.
Furthermore during the UNIP government ZESCO was one of the best run power utilities in africa that even engineers from some european electricity utilities used to come and learn something from Zambia but over the years the company has been runned down because of political interference as the company does not run as a business entity and above all appointments to the position of managing director and directors respectively are no longer done on merit as it used to be during KK’s reign because during the UNIP government it was not easy for someone to rise to the position of managing director and director as one had to have a proven record of competency and experience and rising through management structures but the system changed after the fall of the UNIP government in 1991.
Fellow country men and women you dont need to be a rocket scientist to tell that nowadays it depends on who you know in government to be appointed to top management positions at ZESCO and this should not be the case were appointments are largely driven by political,tribal and regional considerations which is retrogressive more importantly in this day and age.
I keep wondering why the position of managing director and directors at ZESCO and other state owned enterprises are not advertised in line with corporate good governance principles so that well deserving Zambians regardless of their political, tribal and regional affiliations applies for these jobs so that the best brains are appointed to top management positions in order for the firm to run effeciently and profitably.
Moreover it is sad that every time there is a new head of state at state house or change of government there is a new managing director and directors at ZESCO and as the results the staff turn over is too high and in such a scenario it is extremely very difficult for the company to effectively implement it’s business plans because of lack of continuity and in fact already more than 30 highly trained management staff have been retired in national interest or fired at the power firm following the ascendance of the new dawn government to power and most of these casualties have nothing to do with politics but fired based on rumour mongering which is synonomous with parastatal politics and surely where is money going to come from to pay severance packages when the company has a backlog of more than 40000 unconnected customers who have paid capital contributions in full,cry my beloved country Zambia?
By and large the end results is that the company has continued and will continue to lose highly qualified and experienced electrical engineers if this culture of with hunting does not end because these men and women we trained at great cost to tax payers money are now providing a dedicated service in the diaspora and indeed it is true that a prophet is not respected in his own country which is a very retrogressive way of thinking.
It is in light of the foregoing that we need to put our heads together as to whether ZESCO is ready for unbundling taking into account the experiences in Uganda, Nigeria and Ivory coast however the country should continue to invest in renewable and non renewable sources of energy in order to meet current and future electricity demands.
Needless to say that Zambia is well positioned in the region and being a member of Southern African Power Pool(SAPP) it can become the net exporter of electricity in the sub region and beyond therefore we must emulate countries like Ethiopia whose electricity state utility is building the Grand Renaissance Hydro Electric Power Dam on the blue nile which will be the largest hydro power investment in Africa and upon completion it will generate about 6450mw of electricity and as a country we can also do it.
It is unfortunate that as a country there were no significant investments in the electricity generation sub sector in the last more than 45 years apart from the then 900mw Kafue Gorge Hydro Power Station which was commissioned in 1977 and until now when the country has developed the 750mw Kafue Gorge Lower Power Project which is a single major investment in the power sector after so many years despite increasing population and economic activities especially in the mining industry.
Lastly but not the least I hope that the new dawn government will carry on the good works left behind by the PF government which includes the construction of electricity inter connectors to neighbouring countries to enable the country export electricity and accelerating the completion of the 750mw Kafue Gorge Lower Power Project which undoubtedly is a giant step in revolutionizing the electricity generation sub sector in Zambia.
In addition the new dawn government should also seriously consider investing in the 2400mw Batoka Gorge Hydro Power Project which is a joint venture between Zambia and Zimbabwe,the proposed 600mw hydro power project on Luapula river and many other pipeline investments while at the same time encouraging private sector participation in the electricity sub sector such as Independent Power Producers (IPP’s) so that they can compete with the state power utility(ZESCO).
The author is a member of parliament for chama north and former General Secretary of the National Energy Sector and Allied Worker’s Union (NESAWU)