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Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Cash-strapped Zesa losing plot on free bulbs

Cash-strapped Zesa losing plot on free bulbs

http://www.herald.co.zw

Saturday, 27 October 2012 00:00
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Zesa appears to be spending around US$6,1 million on free light bulbs for 
consumers, most of whom do not pay their inflated bills, while it slows down 
on the spread of pre-paid meters. It all seems very odd. Of course energy 
saving fluorescent bulbs will save a lot of energy. Zesa reckons it could 
save 200MW as darkness falls, enough to keep Bulawayo lit up. But the saving 
will not be so great, unfortunately, simply because many households already 
use these bulbs and so much of the expected savings have already been made. 
Consumers are not stupid. They can see the savings almost immediately.
What may have made a little bit of sense a few years ago, now makes no sense 
at all. The energy-saving bulbs are hardly new technology. A variety of 
makes are readily available on all supermarket shelves and cost around twice 
as much as equivalent tungsten filament bulbs. People have been buying them.
Some other utilities did give out free bulbs years ago, but just one to a 
household to prove that the new bulbs did produce decent light and were 
quite safe. Most countries did what Zimbabwe should have already done and 
which it can do right now: they banned the manufacture and import of 
filament bulbs and stocks on shelves soon ran out, leaving just the 
fluorescent bulbs and now the first LED bulbs that are likely to become the 
standard within a few years.
Some countries, with factories pouring out the old filament bulbs, had to 
tread carefully as they brought in the bans, giving enough notice to 
industrialists so factories could be converted.
But those, like Zimbabwe, which never made the old-fashioned bulbs simply 
announced an import ban and watched as consumers quickly converted as the 
short-life tungsten bulbs expired. The utilities achieved their desired 
conversion without spending a cent.
Zesa and its parent energy ministry could do exactly the same. Zimbabwe has 
laws that allow the Government to either ban specific imports or to impose 
such high duties that the undesired item becomes too expensive.
Why has Zesa not pushed for such an import ban? The case is good so it would 
not need much more than a Minister phoning another Minister.
The money saved from an ill-considered policy to give some households a 
free-gift could be put towards some of the programmes Zesa keeps telling us 
it desperately needs. Not all households will benefit; those that have 
already switched will get nothing except the contempt of Zesa staff, a 
strange reward for taking Zesa advice.
Zesa has already paid US$2 million for 1,8 million bulbs that are not in 
short supply and plans to spend another US$4,11 million on the rest of what 
seem a huge order.
That US$6 million could have been spent on a lot of other things that would 
reduce consumption, like the pre-paid meters just about every consumer wants 
desperately, so desperately that there are rumours, probably untrue, that 
Zesa staff are taking hefty bribes to let a consumer jump the queue.
But the rumour-mongering is a sign of frustration over delays and a sign 
that people really want Zesa to move faster on the meters.
But with warehouses bulging with the new bulbs and more no doubt on order, 
what is Zesa to do?
They can quickly do something right. They can get the law used to ban 
imports of filament bulbs, so achieving the desirable end of seeing these 
phased out and they can sell their fluorescent bulbs to wholesalers and 
shops at a little more than cost price and get their money back.
They can then use that money to buy stuff they are short of. They do not 
need to compound a silly and expensive mistake by insisting on repeating it. 

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