Zesco Limited must implement urgent cost-cutting measures from its side by taking themselves off subsidized electricity because it is unfair and unacceptable that over 10,000 of its employees get free electricity, says Edith Nawakwi.

Speaking to journalists at the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court, Wednesday, Nawakwi, a former Energy Minister and current FDD president, said the Energy Regulation Board was expected to be on the side of the consumers.

She recalled that when she created the ERB as a Minister of Energy under president Frederick Chiluba’s administration, it was never her dream or intention that the ERB would become a spokesperson for petroleum and electricity companies.

“I took great exception to Energy Regulatory Board, stepping out of their job description to be the mouthpiece for the utility, Zesco. When they increased the electricity tariffs, they said that they had taken account of the profitability, liquidity position and the fragile nature of how Zesco was operating. When I created the Energy Regulation Board, when I was Minister of Energy, it was never my dream or intention that ERB becomes a spokesperson for the petroleum companies and electricity companies,” Nawakwi said.

“So, the Chairman for ERB is out of step of our job description to ERB. We expect ERB to be on the side of the customer, the consumer. That is the primary role of ERB. To be the arbiter, to be like the court, between the consumer and the customer. I was, therefore, extremely unhappy and uncomfortable at how honourable Raymond Mpundu actually presented the news to the public that ‘because Zesco’s profitability was questionable and it was going to collapse, therefore, we, the people, must take the bill to pay the workers of Zesco.”

And Nawakwi said what was expected from Zesco was for the utility to implement cost-cutting measures from its side by either putting its workers on forced leave or on leave without pay and to further downsize management, arguing that the utility was top-heavy.

“I have the following issues: in 2011, Zesco had 5,000 employees. As we are talking in 2020, Zesco has over 12,000 employees! The Kariba Dam is empty from drought, a God-given disaster. The offices of Zesco are still at full capacity with staffing. The reasoning by Mr Mpundu is tantamount to the fact that if you run a shop and you are selling handbags from Dubai and you run out of those handbags, you must go on the street and ask ordinary people to pay for your workers. What we were expecting from Zesco is that they needed to either put workers on forced leave, on leave without pay and the managers of Zesco needed to downsize. They are top-heavy,” she argued.

“We expected to see some cost-cutting measures because what do they sell? They sell water from the Kariba. If I have tomatoes from my farm and I run out of tomatoes at Soweto Market, I don’t increase the price. The end result is that I still have no tomatoes even if a box is K500. So, the thinking is uneconomically unthought-through, the motivation behind it is that the public are going to keep the workers of Zesco as they are. We should see some cost-cutting measures from that side.”

Nawakwi insisted on Zesco slashing their costs because almost all its workers were on subsidized electricity.

“When people are hurting and aching, you don’t ask them to foot your bills! You reduce the burden. I think that what has happened was unacceptable, in fact, the increase in fuel prices was the same day they increased electricity prices. But my question is, you can increase even to 300 per cent, if there is no water in the Kariba, what are you selling? There is no electricity to sell! He is not telling me that even if he takes it to K1,000, he will sell any more units for Zesco. The only thing he is doing is that those of us who get one hour of electricity, should use that one hour to pay for all his bills,” said Nawakwi.

“I want Zesco to cut their costs because almost all the workers of Zesco are on subsidized electricity. I’m a consumer, I get one hour worth of power. Mr (Victor) Mundende (Zesco managing director) gets unfettered supply for 360 days! Our factory (Legana) gets two hours of supply! What are all these Zesco managing directors, who get uninterrupted supply 24/7, what product are they supplying from their homes? We should have equity and the first equity is that they should reduce the costs by taking themselves off subsidized electricity. 15,000 employees of Zesco, each one getting free electricity! How many factories can we power with power? It is unfair, unacceptable, and it is retrogressive. They are undermining the development of this Republic.”

Nawakwi is a witness in a matter in which a 19-year-old clinical medicine student, Luyando Kopakopa, and her police reserve partner, Eric Nhandu, are accused of defaming her meat processing company, Legana Investment Limited.

The matter has been adjourned to February 7 and 11, this year, for trial.