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Zimbabwe loses to power theft

24 September 2007 – At least 290 million units of electricity a year are being lost by ZESA due to theft and illegal connections.

In an effort to curb this theft, Lieutenant General Mike Nyambuya, minister of energy and power development, last week presented the Electricity Amendment Bill to parliament.

The bill provides for stiffer penalties for electricity theft and is expected to go through a second approval stage this week.

"Currently, theft of electricity is estimated at about 290 gigawatt hours per year, which is equivalent to a loss of $237 billion* per year at current tariff levels.

"Losses of such magnitude are unsustainable to Zesa and will increase in the event that cost-reflective tariffs are implemented," Nyambuya said.

Power theft invariably involves an element of vandalism to equipment and should therefore carry heavy penalties. Additionally the illegal connections usually result in accidents involving people and/or livestock.

"The imposition of a mandatory sentence would reduce electricity accidents such as those that occur due to illegal extensions to illegal tuck-shops, barbershops, fowl runs and log cabins," continued Nyambuya.

"The integrity of the electricity distribution system gets compromised as it is designed for specific loads.

"Consumer substations have caught fire as a result, and the current average replacement cost for one substation is about $5,5 billion," he said.

"Acts of vandalism are tantamount to sabotage as destruction has caused the economy to bleed in terms of foreign currency for replacement of damaged equipment to restore supplies to affected areas, hence the need to legislate heavy penalties that will deter vandalism and sabotage," Nyambuya said.

Offences in relation to tampering with electricity or equipment will attract a mandatory sentence of between two years and ten years.

Diverting electricity current will carry a sentence of not less than two years.

Using known illegal electricity connections, damaging or destroying equipment provided for public convenience or safety will also carry a sentence of two years.

Tampering with any generation, transmission, distribution or supply equipment, resulting in a loss of supply, will carry a mandatory sentence of not less than 10 years.

Additionally, the Bill provides for the merging of the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company and the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution and Transmission Company, streamlining Zesa Holdings as recommended by Cabinet.

* it is unclear from the original report if this figure refers to US or Zimbabwe dollars.