By Owen Gagare
HARARE- Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma came under fire from President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF cabinet ministers at a high-level meeting on Tuesday in which leaked Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) bills, including disclosures that the First Family owed the power utility more than US$345 000 in unpaid power bills, featured prominently.
Several ministers, senior civil servants as well as service chiefs were named among people who have not been paying their electricity bills resulting in Zesa failing to settle its debts and ensure adequate power supplies. This has caused severe load-shedding, particularly in the high-density areas.
While defaulting VIPs were not switched off, poor people, whose bills are comparatively small, always live in darkness or without electricity for domestic use. Official sources say the Zesa bills issue came up for discussion at the charged meeting, chaired by Mugabe, after Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere accused Mangoma of leaking the “confidential information” about the bills to embarrass Mugabe and Zanu PF ministers, while scoring political points.
Mangoma angrily denied the allegations.
Sources said after Kasukuwere’s outburst, Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube chipped in to rescue Mangoma who was under siege, saying the Indigenisation minister’s language was improper, although the issue he raised was legitimate.
Ncube, sources said, indicated it was unprofessional for bills to be leaked because they were meant to be a private issue between Zesa and its clients. A number of ministers felt the relationship between a client and Zesa should be similar to that of a client/lawyer, client/banker or patient/doctor relationship where confidentiality was paramount.
After Mangoma was attacked by Kasukuwere who accused him of leaking the Zesa bills and Ncube had protested the strong language, Mugabe joined the fray to renew assaults on the MDC-T minister. Kasukuwere is also one of the VIPs not paying their bills.
“The president (Mugabe) stepped in and said it did not matter who leaked the information because the buck stopped with Mangoma since Zesa is under his ministry,” said a source. “He charged and demanded that Mangoma must accept responsibility.”
While holding his line insisting he was not personally responsible for leaking of the information, an angry Mangoma was said to have accepted responsibility and promised to issue a statement assuring the public of confidentiality on their bills.
However, other Zanu PF ministers, who apparently wanted to defend and impress Mugabe, refused to let Mangoma get away with it. They attacked him around, fuelling a heated and long debate on the controversial unpaid bills.
Mines minister Obert Mpofu was said to have insisted Mangoma had leaked the information given that he had promised to “name and shame” bigwigs who were not paying their electricity bills. Mangoma had previously raised the issue in cabinet and in parliament but he maintained on Tuesday that he was not behind the leaks.
Mangoma told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy last month that some government ministers and senior civil servants had not paid their power bills since adoption of the multi-currency system in 2009. He has been on a crusade to urge defaulters to pay their electricity bills to enable Zesa to settle a US$80 million debt owed to Hydro Cahora Bassa of Mozambique.
Zesa is owed in excess of US$450 million by defaulting consumers. Mangoma warned last month that his ministry had taken a position to switch off all defaulters “without fear or favour”.
Mangoma was left exposed at the Tuesday meeting since his party boss and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai did not attend the meeting as he is out of the country. Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe, who could have also rescued him, were also not at the meeting while MDC-T secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti did not intervene.
This gave the Zanu PF camp, led by Mugabe, a free rein to attack Mangoma. Mangoma confirmed to the Independent yesterday the issue was discussed on Tuesday. He said he accepted that it was wrong for people’s debts to be leaked, saying he had clearly stated this position to Mugabe and his fellow ministers.
“My belief is whatever is owed is private and should not be for public consumption and therefore as the minister responsible I can only apologise to those whose accounts were made public. I stated that position and it’s the same position I’m stating now,” said Mangoma.
He however insisted he did not leak the bills and charged it was “mischievous” for anyone to think he had done so. The leaked Zesa bills allegedly showed that as at December 31 2011, Mugabe’s family owed more than US$345 000 to the power utility.
The electricity bill for the first family’s four plots at Foyle Farm plus a cottage as well as Gushungo Dairy stood at US$143 667 while Gwebi Woodlot 1st Farm owed US$24 901. Sigaro Farm 1st PO, 2nd PO, 3rd PO and 4th PO owed a total of US$78 218.
The First Lady Grace Mugabe’s Iron Mask Cottage, Iron Mask 2nd POIN, Iron Mask 3rd POIN, Mazowe Wholesalers, Annant Cottage, Iron Mask Farm 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th owed a total of US$98 306 as at December 31 2011.
Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa reportedly owed US$240 824 while the Transport and Communications minister Nicholas Goche owed US$158 245 for his plots at Ceres Farm and businesses, which include grinding mills, a farm store and a service station.
Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa owed US$179 590 and Central Intelligence Organisation Director-General Happyton Bonyongwe owed US$350 989 although he has made significant moves to clear his debt.
Air force chief Perence Shiri owed US$26 947 for his Hopdale Farm while police boss Augustine Chihuri’s homestead and his Inyika Farm owed US$106 778.
Kasukuwere, who was breathing fire on Tuesday, owes Zesa US$100 602. Zimbabwe Independent