The current wave of disenchantment over Escom’s announcement that consumers should brace for more black outs is understandable. Escom has not been telling the truth about the power cuts.
The lies aside, both government and Escom should take blame for the persistent black outs which Malawians have endured for many years. The inadequate power supply epitomises gross negligence in energy investment, lack of vision and political will, incompetence and lack of planning by those concerned.
Both government and Escom have not explored alternative sources of energy. No meaningful investment in energy has been done for many years despite having abundant coal in the country.
What we have seen are endless excuses and promises from both government and Escom to end electricity shortage. The population of Malawi has grown considerably over the decades, which has put pressure on provision of electricity. This is compounded by the aging machines that generate electricity. But nothing tangible has been done.
Government and Escom should have been visionary enough to look for alternative sources of energy. Coal-fired plants should have been an obvious option. Malawi has abundant coal in the Northern Region that is idle. Instead of relying on hydro power, Escom should have built coal-fired plants across the country a long time ago to supplement hydro power. Why Escom cannot invest in coal-fired power stations hitherto boggles the mind! Other countries exploit their natural resources to the fullest. For example, almost 90 percent of South Africa’s electricity is generated from coal-fired power stations because it has large deposits of coal. Only a small percentage is supplemented by hydro-power imported from Cabora Bassa in Mozambique.
Under the influence of donors, government is planning to unbundle Escom into two entities—one to cater for generation and the other for transmission and distribution. Government also intends to bring in independent power producers to generate electricity to sell to consumers. Whether this will reduce tariffs remains to be seen.
By bringing in independent producers government has admitted failure to improve power supply in Malawi. It is also sending the message that it cannot trust its own company, Escom, to improve efficiency in the energy sector.
Media reports say government has already identified a Chinese company to build a coal-fired plant. However, it is important for government to be transparent enough to disclose whether this is a joint-venture or not. What stake does government have in the company, bearing in mind that the company will be using our coal?
Malawians should not wake up one day to realise that foreign companies have replaced Escom. That would be tantamount to government abdicating its responsibility. Already we have seen how government has shifted its agenda for development. Any talk about development is shifted to foreign investors. Are foreign investors running Malawi?