IMAGINE buying bread for your family and you consume half of the loaf for breakfast. In the evening when you want to make tea, you find the bakery owner who sold you the bread has grabbed it, saying “you need to save the remaining half for breakfast tomorrow because I don’t have enough flour to make more bread”. Who does that? Well apparently, the Managing Director at Zesco and his entire management find a lot of logic and sense in this reasoning.

On June 27, 2020, Zesco announced the rolling out of smart meters that will enable the power utility to regulate the usage of electricity by switching off certain appliances in customer’s homes. During a press briefing, Friday, Zesco managing director Victor Mundende said the smart meters would be rolled out at a cost of US$40 million over a period of five years.

“Yes, from our comfort of our offices and from the comfort of your homes, we will be able to deal with certain appliances in order to just share the little power that we have. What we mean is that we will be able to; if we have less power going to an area, we will be able to switch off other appliances that you have like geysers, without the customer intervention. If we go to another level of load shedding, we will be able to switch off cookers and so on and so forth,” said Mundende.

This is absurd! It is an imaginable lack of common sense in many ways. Why would Zesco spend a whooping US$40 million on efforts to stop people from consuming the electricity that it sells for its sustenance? We are not economists, but common sense dictates that whatever investment you make must produce a return that is more than equal to the initial capital in order for that business to be considered viable. How will this US$40 million investment profit Zesco? We are told that Zesco, in fact, will enter into a loan agreement with the suppliers of these metres; how will they make money to repay the loan if the plan is to stop people from consuming electricity? What kind of appliances will Zesco be switching off in order to recover US$40 million?

Zesco needs to explain to the nation for our people to appreciate this reasoning because in the absence of an explanation, this sounds like a stupid move by a group of people who are not very smart. If we may ask, with such a decision, can Zesco still claim its motto of powering the nation? How are they powering the nation with US$40 million worth darkness? Really, this is absurd. We can’t imagine that the Zesco Managing Director and his team of technocrats all agreed that this is a viable investment for the company.

All along, we have been made to believe that the biggest challenge Zesco is facing is generation capacity. But strangely, instead of pouring this money towards increased power generation, they are focusing on limited consumption. This is the kind of news that citizens wish was fake. If Zesco announced that the utility would not consider new applications for power installation during a specified period until it improves its generation capacity, people would not be as shocked as they are now. That makes logical sense, people would assume that Zesco wants to satisfy its current customers’ needs before it adds more consumers to the power grid.

But with this announcement, we cannot resist the temptation of calling out the Zesco management. With all due respect to Mr Mundende and his team, this, in our view, is a paralysis of thinking. Do they understand that reducing the usage of their service means less revenue? If they do, how do they plan to meet the increased demand? Wow! Zesco has really gone crazy. If this is what is called thinking outside the box at Zesco, then we implore them to immediately halt their plans and go back to thinking inside the box before they kill people.

What about investing that US$40 million in solar energy? The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) claims that the US$60 million invested in solar energy at the Lusaka South Multi Facility Economic Zone is capable of generating 54 megawatts of power which can cover a huge portion of Lusaka’s domestic consumption. Would it not make sense for Zesco to invest that money in more solar energy?

Like we have stated, Zesco has not done a good job explaining the rationale behind this move. If Zesco does not explain how it intends to profit from this move, the catch would be that the bosses want to steal from the supply contract of the so-called smart metres. That is how we would interpret such a bad decision. If Zesco will not profit from this investment and the consumers would not make profit from it either, it means a few pockets have been lined up for gratification. We don’t believe this is an act of dullness, it’s a shameless decision with criminal intent. Someone wants to steal from the US$40 million deal.