Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
Business entities in Norton, large and small-scale firms, have offered to pay their electricity bills in foreign currency in exchange for ring-fenced power from Zesa to avoid crippling disruption to operations.
This emerged during the Norton Business Alliance meeting that was held last week in the dormitory town to discuss many issues besetting businesses in the area, chief among them rolling power cuts.
State power utility Zesa cannot provide adequate power on the back of antiquated equipment, a drought that depleted water and hydro power production at major power station Kariba South as well as foreign currency shortages that limit Zimbabwe’s ability to import from the region to bridge deficits.
As such, Zesa guarantees uninterrupted power for sections of industry that can pay in hard currency, which enables it to mobilise resources to import from the region to reduce the deficit from local generation.
Zimbabwe requires about 1 800 megawatts at peak periods of demand, but the state of its aged internal generation equipment and effects of drought this year on hydro-power output sees it produce just about 800MW at best.
Apart from the power shortages, Norton firms bemoaned a number of company specific problems Norton Business want addressed. For instance, Hastt Zimbabwe bemoaned influx of cheap imports claiming it has the capacity to supply the market with high quality products at affordable prices.
Cooking oil producer, Cangrow Trading, bemoaned the slow pace of processing of external payments for raw materials, which are initiated by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and processed by local banks through Letter of Creditors that sometimes take as long as three months.
Cangrow Trading director Ankit Jain, whose company has Zimbabwe’s third biggest oil process situated in Norton, with potential to meet half the country’s requirements, bemoaned low agricultural productivity, especially soya bean, for constraining ready access to raw materials for edible oils.
Central African Batteries (CAB), Zimbabwe’s only other battery making firm apart from Chloride Zimbabwe, said it was facing acute shortage of used or scrap batteries, which contain material it requires for recycling and use in the production of new batteries, which are being exported.
Non-ferrous Metal Works, which manufactures taps, bemoaned the acute shortage of raw materials, such as scrap metal, also being lost to lucrative export markets, as a major challenge apart from power cuts that are forcing them to use other expensive and less efficient alternative sources of energy.
The meeting in Norton was attended by Secretary for Industry and Commerce Dr Mavis Sibanda, captains of industry, small and large businesses operating in Norton as well as Norton legislator Temba Mliswa, who chaired the discussions.
The meeting was held ahead of a scheduled visit by Industry and Commerce Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu who will provide definitive answers on possible Government solutions or interventions to challenges the businesses are facing.
Mr Mliswa told the Secretary for Industry and Commerce that as a community, they had looked into the issue of power cuts and elected, as the Norton Business community to pay their bills in forex in exchange for guaranteed supplies, but it emerged later that the arrangement only lasted a month.
According to the Norton Business Alliance, companies in Norton have come under immense pressure to give employees a cost of living adjustment against virtually low or declining production.
“The issue of Zesa saddens me. I briefed the (industry) minister after Honourable Mliswa told me that the power issue had been resolved. I was then disappointed to hear that the issues that Mr Mliswa was happy to have resolved have resurfaced and we need to continuously engage,” Dr Sibanda said.
Earlier the Norton legislator had recounted how power issues had affected the operations of all businesses in Norton until he intervened. Mr Mliswa pointed out that Norton was the only constituency in the entire Mashonaland West Province, which has an established industry worth talking about.
“The companies were asked to pay in foreign currency so that they could be ring-fenced and I think that is a good story for us,” Mr Mliswa said while briefing Dr Sibanda, only to be reminded by captains of industry that the uninterrupted power supply paid for in foreign currency had since been stopped.
Earlier Mr Mliswa had said allowing businesses that can pay in foreign currency to do so for dedicated power supply removed the burden from Government of finding the hard currency needed to import electricity from the region.
He said it was time the Government allowed businesses to organise themselves while it would only come in to provide policy direction and crafting and ensuring that regulations are followed while it receives statutory fees.