Lovemore Chikova, Development Matrix
All eyes will this year focus on Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi, especially after the Government dedicated the year to production and job creation.
In light of this vision, Minister Chasi bears huge responsibilities in terms of setting out basic requirements for efficiency in the production process.
This is because he superintends over two important enablers of production — electricity and fuel — which of late have been facing numerous problems that have negatively affected the economy.
It is no coincidence that the Government has made it clear that this year’s focus on the developmental trajectory is on “production, production and production!”
By putting production at the apex of the country’s developmental matrix for the year, the Government is aware of the need to move away from imports through import substitution industrialisation.
Import substitution industrialisation can only become noticeable where industries are functional, without hindrances to production.
If the revival of industries was to take place today, and many factories open, one would shudder to think how they would become effective in their work with the shortage of electricity and fuel.
This is what should be giving Minister Chasi sleepless nights as he works to come up with quick solutions.
Of course, the expectations of the people have already been heightened by the declaration of production as anchoring the development aspirations for this year.
But this cannot be effectively achieved in a situation in which the country is facing shortages of fuel and electricity.
This means the Government and industrialists will have to turn to Minister Chasi to provide answers to the shortages of electricity and fuel that have been haunting the country for some time.
Whatever the magnitude of the shortages, a solution needs to be found swiftly so that the year starts on a good footing that lays the foundation for production.
The importance of electricity to development in general and industry in particular cannot be overemphasised.
No matter how industries and factories can be revived, they will still count for nothing without the efficient availability of electricity.
Industries that are operating at the moment either have to endure long hours of load-shedding or rely on generators that consume gallons of fuel.
Relying on such generators becomes untenable considering the fuel shortages and the attendant costs.
This is what confronts Minister Chasi in this year of production.
He should simply make industries and factories tick by facilitating the efficient provision of electricity and fuel.
Electricity is correlated to economic development, and everyone has seen the effects of its shortage, not only on industries and factories, but on the general livelihood of the people.
Electricity shortages always hit hard all productive sectors of the economy.
The agricultural sector, for instance, could be facing a devastating drought, and in such times, farmers rely on irrigation, but they cannot do so without electricity.
Yet, agriculture is important in fulfilling the goal of production by providing the much-needed raw materials in industries and factories.
Modern manufacturing cannot take place in the absence of electricity since the operation of machines driven by new technologies need power.
Even the attraction of foreign investors for the revival of the industries and the setting up of special economic zones as envisaged, entirely depends on the availability of electricity.
This shows that electricity shortages are undermining the revival of industries and the eventual attainment of the goal of more production and job creation this year.
This makes the stabilisation of electricity supply a priority in line with the aspirations of Government.
The low water levels in Kariba Dam have been mainly blamed for the shortage of electricity, but it seems there is no going all-out to embrace other forms of power generation like solar.
This is despite that it has become clear that the effects of climate change are taking a toll on hydro-electricity, and this calls for the exploration of other sources of generating power.
If done well and according to the book, solar energy can provide a quick solution to power challenges because of the plenty of sunshine available almost on a daily basis in Zimbabwe.
There have been too many missed opportunities in solar energy, which Minister Chasi needs to urgently revisit and sort out the mess.
One such project which quickly comes to mind is the one in Gwanda where nothing is happening on the ground, despite the Government having released millions of United States dollars.
There have been accusations around the project, some bordering on corruption, and what we are left with are long and winding court processes which seem not to end, while the project targets have long been forgotten.
While we have a few independent power producers in operation, they are generating electricity at a small-scale which is yet to have a full impact on the national grid.
Cabinet recently approved a plan to develop energy from mineral resources to ensure the country becomes a net exporter of electricity and fuel by 2030.
The plan entails a number of projects that include the extraction of coal-bed methane gas for power generation, production of liquid fuel from coal and generation of electricity from coal and development of oil and gas from various concessions.
What is needed is to put these projects into action, especially after the discovery of billions of cubic feet of coal-bed methane gas in Lupane.
When it comes to fuel, there has been talk about Letters of Credit being issued to private operators, but these have not yet been effective to the extent of doing away with fuel queues.
Letters of Credit are guaranteed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) that payment will be made in future, and oil firms are allowed to pay in local currency for fuel to be delivered.
They help reduce payment risks on international trade transactions, and with a Letter of Credit, a company’s bank can guarantee payment to a seller if certain criteria are met.
It is most welcome that major oil companies like Total Zimbabwe, Engen, Petrotrade, Zuva Petroleum and Puma have adopted the use of the Letters of Credit to circumvent foreign currency shortages.
We all saw how these Letters of Credit worked wonders during the just-ended festive season when their issuance resulted in the availability of fuel and the disappearance of queues, albeit for a few days.
This was after Minister Chasi assured people that the festive season would not be affected by fuel shortages because the Letters of Credit would be issued.
What is needed is for Minister Chasi to revisit the issuance of such documents and determine what needs to be corrected so that their contribution to the availability of fuel becomes permanent.
Just like electricity, industries and factories that anchor the production process need fuel for them to function effectively.
In fact, the availability of fuel is at the centre of any developmental aspirations, as it makes the world of business move around.
It, thus, becomes Minister Chasi’s responsibility to provide answers to the fuel crisis through exploring all means possible that can make it available to all the sectors of the economy to enhance production.
There is no doubt that all economic activities have been affected by the shortage of fuel, and something needs to be done quickly for the realisation of the vision set for this year, which includes the creation of the much-needed jobs.
People are spending productive man-hours in fuel queues, while the transportation of materials and produce to and from industries is grounded in some cases because of lack of fuel.
It is clear that the fuel crisis has put a heavy burden on industrialists and ordinary motorists who have to go through a tough time to obtain it.
The agricultural sector has also been hard hit by the shortage of fuel, inasmuch as it has been affected by the lack of electricity.
Farmers cannot obtain enough diesel to embark on maximum production, and this is set to affect food security and lower agricultural exports, thereby affecting the generation of foreign currency.
All other sectors like tourism and the delivery of social services cannot happen effectively without the availability of fuel.
Given the above scenario, it is imperative that the twin problems of electricity and fuel shortages are addressed to ensure production happens.
It is of importance that Minister Chasi, who is responsible for these sectors, sets out a clear roadmap to addressing the shortages of electricity and fuel, to enhance Government’s developmental programmes.