By Deogratias Mmana
The promise by the Tonse administration to give free electricity connections to Malawians may not come any time soon, it emerges.
This week, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) confessed that it is failing to raise a top up of K271,800 for individual single-phase customer.
Escom has admitted that there are a number of customers who paid for new service connections and are still waiting due to non-availability of materials.
In a statement it issued on March 22, 2022, Escom explained that during new connections, an individual customer contributes K93,200 towards the average cost of K365,000 per connection and Escom contributes K271,800.
In the statement, Escom said the non-availability of materials is mainly attributed to the challenges that Escom is facing in raising its contribution of K271,800 per connection.
“Escom is now allowing customers who are willing and can afford to procure materials required for a connection to do so as per terms and conditions,” the statement reads.
Escom says this arrangement is for a quick connection although it is not compulsory.
But in an interview yesterday, Escom Board Chairperson Frederick Changaya, while agreeing with the observation that the statement may give little hope to Malawians on free connections, said the institution expects to start rolling out the free electricity connections project in the 2022-2023 financial year.
Changaya said the free electricity connections project is different from the usual connections that the company has been doing over the past years.
But he also said this is not a simple project as people think because a lot of things have to be put in place.
“That is a Ministry of Energy programme and we have been given the mandate to implement it. We will wait for regulatory policies. They [the Ministry of Energy] have not cleared that,” Changaya said.
He added that Escom, the Ministry of Energy and the World Bank are making arrangements to ensure that once rolled out, the project is sustained.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has described Escom’s failure to buy materials for connections as a signal that the Tonse Alliance administration, within two years in power, has failed to implement its promise.
“Tonse Alliance has failed Malawians,” HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence said.
He added: “In fact, the connection fee is very prohibitive for poor Malawians. This does not give any hope for many Malawians who are outside the grid and will fail to use electricity to improve their economic status. Tonse Alliance should have solutions on how they can fulfill this promise.”
Executive Director for Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) John Kapito said the cost of electricity connections is high and it is a challenge for the “cash-strapped” Escom to subsidise and connect many houses in the country.
“For Escom to embark on this project [free connections], one would expect them to get such huge amounts [of money] from somewhere and hoping not from the tariff,” Kapito said.
He further said: “However, recently we were informed that government has identified funding for the purposes of connecting houses for free. Unfortunately, we are not informed the progress of that project and seriously this is an ambitious project being implemented at a wrong time.”
Kapito asked Escom to come out with a clear strategy on the connections issue so that Malawians get some hope.
“When electricity generation is low, translating into lower revenues, there is a need for Escom to come out clearly and tell Malawians the truth. Their statement does not make sense and they are communicating nothing,” Kapito said.
As Escom struggles to connect customers who have made a contribution towards their connections, the company has deprived one million customers who would have been connected under the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (Marep).
Minister of Energy Ibrahim Matola told a news conference on March 15, 2022, that Escom has ‘borrowed’ 150 transformers from Marep to replace the vandalised ones and in the process delaying the connection of one million to the power grid.
Matola said Escom needs K2 billion to replace 250 vandalised transformers.
Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako refused to comment on the matter and referred us to Escom.
During campaign, President Lazarus Chakwera promised Malawians that his administration would give free electricity connections.