Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter from Zimbabwe !

A hidden agenda?

Saturday 19th September 2009.

Dear Family and Friends,

A barking dog, a bang at the gate and all sanity and equilibrium is gone as a young man hands over a piece of paper saying he's come to disconnect the electricity. The printing on the disconnection notice is so faint it is almost illegible. Even with glasses it cannot be read and it takes a magnifying glass to expose the absurdity.

The notice was issued on the 11th of September but is only being delivered five days later on the 16th of the month. "Where have you been for five days?" I ask. He shrugs and says nothing. The date is not the only thing wrong with the notice from ZESA, the electricity company. Something called an 'extra deposit' has been crossed out by hand.

The re-connection fee has been changed, by hand and the total amount owing has been crossed out and re-written, by hand. I hand over my last statement from ZESA to the youngster at the gate and politely tell him there must be a mistake. "Look, Zesa issued me with a credit balance last month, there's no way I owe them 757 US dollars (473 British pounds) for one month's residential consumption."

The youngster who is not in uniform or marked clothing and has no identification of employment, shrugs his shoulders boredly and tells me to go and see the accounts office in town.

The nightmare begins.

In an hour I see 5 different ZESA employees in their offices and not a single one even has manners enough to say good morning. This simple absence is shocking in a country where courtesy and greetings are everything. It is disgraceful in a public company and at a time when the country is trying to attract investors and restore confidence after a decade of collapse.

My requests for explanation as to how a credit balance on my account one month could lead to such a huge debit on the next, were met with hostility and aggression. I am passed from one rude and bored employee to another until finally a man who does not greet me or look at me, takes my account and taps numbers incessantly into a computer. After some time I ask him what it is that he is doing and he says he is spreading the debt out over the last six months and working out a payment plan. "What debt?" I ask. "Where has this huge debt come from?"

By now I am not the only angry customer in the office, there are half a dozen other desperate people also trying to get explanations for massive electricity bills. Voices are raised.

ZESA have been under-charging since February, we are told. The rates have gone up and been backdated 7 months. When we ask for proof, Zesa tell us the new rates have been approved by the Minister of Energy, Mr Mudzuri. When we ask for written notice of the new rates and for the Ministers approval of the back-dating, we are told to come back another day. For now the growing crowd of angry customers all have to pay 10 US dollars to be reconnected and have to agree to a debt re-payment plan. Its a ridiculous plan because the monthly repayment is already more than most people's entire monthly income.

As hard as we fight our way out of the deep hole the previous government pushed us into, so the parastals and utilities suppliers fight just as hard to destroy us again. Many people are saying there's a hidden agenda here, perhaps there is ?

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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