By Mugove Tafirenyika
Energy minister Joram Gumbo has had a baptism of fire since his recent appointment coincided with the deepening fuel crisis in the country that has sparked calls for his resignation from some quarters.
The Daily News on Sunday’s Mugove Tafirenyika (Q) recently spoke to Gumbo (A) on the fuel crisis and other related issues.
Q: You were Transport minister recently but you now find yourself as Energy minister. What is your vision here?
A: This morning I had my first meeting with my permanent secretary. When I joined, the permanent secretary who was here (Patson Mbiriri) was retired and I was given a new one — Gloria Magombo.
She is coming from the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) where she was chief executive officer. She has been at her former employers doing a handover takeover, so she officially came to the ministry today.
This effectively means that from the time that I was appointed I did not have a permanent secretary per se. I therefore have not had time to come up with a roadmap for what we want to do. We have just agreed that she is going to organise a meeting for me to meet board members of other entities to chart the way forward.
Q: But you must surely have something on your mind in general terms.
A: We must look at Zimbabwe being a middle income economy by 2030 in line with the president’s vision and this ministry plays a pivotal role in the discharge of that mandate and vision.
That means, for example, that there has to be enough fuel to drive industry forward and we must also have power to assist in the mining industry, agriculture and industry and commerce.
Q: What specific areas are you looking at in that regard?
A: There are areas to look at regarding power and energy. Renewable energy, wind-driven energy, gas, solar energy must be encouraged.
We must encourage that the new buildings being constructed must, as much as possible, use solar energy as is the case in countries such as Israel where you can only build if you are going to use solar power.
We are looking at things like that. We must also look at fuel. I am looking at Zimbabwe becoming the hub of the distribution of fuel to other countries.
I am looking at a second pipe line from Beira and bigger storage tanks so that all other countries in the region must come and collect fuel from here. That is the broader vision of the ministry.
There is also the issue of Batoka which is a very important project which requires about $6 billion. We are also resuscitating the Hwange Power Station through the Hwange seven and eight.
There are also other old stations in Bulawayo, Munyati and Harare which need urgent attention because they are now antiquated.
We want to make life easier for the people by pegging reasonable tariffs. Our farmers, for example, are failing to operate optimally because the electricity charges are too high.
We must look at places like Mutirikwi and the Eastern Highlands where we can get hydropower.
The finer details of the operations to achieve that will be availed in due course.
Q: So what is the starting point?
A: There several allegations of corruption levelled against the employees of this ministry.
I am going to task the permanent secretary to look into this to make sure that we carry out the mandate of the ministry professionally and with professional people… and to ensure we get rid of the corruption that we are accused of.
I am also coming up with a brochure for the ministry so that when people come to the ministry they have ready information which they can refer to. It makes it easier to make a follow-up because there is a point of reference.
Q: There are reports of corrupt deals involving some of your predecessors especially the solar projects involving businessman, Wicknell Chivayo. What are you doing about them?
A: I am not privy to the allegations made against my predecessors because I was working elsewhere.
But let me say I am getting into the ministry at a time when there is an ongoing forensic audit that is being done by a company that was awarded a tender to do that by the authorities through the Comptroller and Auditor- General’s office.
So that on its own is going to be dealing with those issues you are alluding to. I am happy that I am starting on a new page in the sense that the issues you are referring to will come into the open after the audit is completed.
I must say that I know about the fact that the audit is going on and that the Auditor-General’s office is keen to interview more people in that regard.
We have been given a list of the people they want to interview. They have also told us that they want access to some documents taken by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) when they were conducting their own investigations.
Q: The Daily News reported in 2012 about the Zesagate scandal where it was revealed that senior government officials including former president Robert Mugabe were not paying Zesa bills. Did they eventually pay-up?
A: As I have indicated earlier on, I have not been privileged to be appraised on what has been happening in the ministry. However, let me tell you what I know.
If people use electricity and they do not pay for it, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
So I have asked the permanent secretary to give me a list of debtors and that includes government ministries, senior people in government, companies, farmers, schools, mines etc.
I want them listed and we will write to them asking them to come up with payment plans and clear their debts.
As far as I am concerned, there is no one who is exempted from paying for the energy they use at their institution or their homes, farms, schools or even government hospitals.
Everyone should pay and that includes me. At one time I had a debt with Zesa…I am happy to say that I cleared my debt at my farm and I pay monthly.
I expect everybody to do likewise. I am not going to say to Zesa so and so should not pay this month because he is our minister, no.
Remember I am minister today and I might not be a minister tomorrow, Zesa is not my property. It’s for the people of Zimbabwe.
All individuals, all senior politicians, be they Zanu PF and MDC have to pay.
Sydney Sekeramayi is one of the most senior politicians in the country but he came to me and said he was surprised to see his name in the press saying he owes Zesa yet he has a plan with the power utility.
That is what we must do. I encourage everyone to do likewise.
Sekeramayi is a good example of senior people who know the importance of paying Zesa bills.
He went to Zesa with a payment plan and Zesa readily accepted.
Q: Turning to the fuel situation in the country, there have been calls for you to resign because you allegedly lied that there is enough fuel in the country. How do you plead?
A: I don’t live in Mars; I live here in Harare and pass through Puma along Glenara Road where I see queues.
On Friday I was in the queue for two hours. So I don’t live in Mars.
People must understand one thing: the mandate of the ministry.
Its mandate is to make fuel provision in the country.
I am telling people there is enough fuel and I stand by that even when they say I lie and I must resign.
I can’t resign for telling people the truth.
The truth of the matter is that government through its own wisdom did deregulate the provision of fuel in the country and therefore there are companies, at least five major ones, that bring in fuel in the country at the depots in Msasa and Mabvuku.
Companies cannot access it if they have not paid or it.
But it (fuel) is in the country so my stance goes and I still maintain there are enough stocks of fuel in the country.
That stock has always been accessed by companies through the provision of foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and the governor (John Mangudya) has stated it himself that he has been providing $20 million per week to these companies so that they can access the fuel and then distribute it to service stations.
I also made the point that the fuel challenges we are facing as a nation are partly because the international market price for fuel has gone up so what we used to buy with $20 million can no longer be matched because of the rise in prices.
The RBZ governor has made adjustments to ensure that we maintain the same amount of fuel.
I am glad to say he had paid $41 million to the fuel companies by Friday last week. Also due to the fall of the bond note relative to the US dollar on the black mark market, foreign companies were now filling in here that is why we took the decision that foreign companies must buy in foreign currency.
We have enough fuel in the country. The demand for fuel has also increased because there is more business activity (in the country).
It means more consumption of fuel because the economy is rising from the slumber.
There is, however, no reason for us to panic and over the weekend the companies have been picking up fuel.
The queues will be clearing; just give us a day or two.
I have not said your service stations have fuel but that there is enough fuel in the country which must be accessed in a certain way and I have not lied. Daily News.