By Chikumbutso Mtumodzi
Addressing Malawians during the state opening of the 3rd Meeting in the 49th Session of Parliament and the 2021/2022 Budget Meeting last year, the President of the Republic, Dr. Lazarus Chakwera said his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) administration recognizes that Malawi’s industrial and socio-economic development is dependent on access to modern, reliable and sufficient energy.
The Head of State also said that in a bid to increase access to electricity, government is implementing Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP), whose target is to connect 400,000 households to the grid. Similarly, the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP) Phase 9 will connect at least 40,000 households.
“Additionally, through the finalization of the Malawi – Mozambique interconnection, Malawi-Zambia interconnection and the Southern Africa Power Pool, we will continue to close the gap between the energy haves and the energy have-nots,” said the Malawi leader.
IMPROVED ELECTRICITY SITUATION
Many people can testify that the electricity situation in the country is much more improved under the leadership of President Chakwera and the Tonse alliance than it was under the previous governments.
Still, government is not stopping there as it has renewed its resolve to revamp the energy sector in the country focusing on empowering power distributor, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) to be more efficient and effective in connecting and distributing electricity to Malawians.
Under its vision and mission, ESCOM has a strategy designed to bring about safe, reliable and quality supply of electricity to Malawians; provide timely access to new applicants as well as to bring sound corporate governance and financial sustainability to the organization.
ESCOM is a Distribution Licensee, tasked with planning, building, operating and maintaining Distribution network. It is also a Transmission Licensee tasked with planning, building, operating and maintaining transmission network. On top of that, the company is also a System Market Operator (SMO) Licensee and it is tasked with optimization of usage of the transmission network.
The company is also a Single Buyer Licensee involved with buying and selling of power, including its importing and exporting. This function is currently in the process of being transferred from ESCOM to Power Market Limited (PML), according to ESCOM’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Clement Kanyama.
Despite many successes, ESCOM still faces some challenges such as the lack of financing and inadequate backbone, which limits places where electricity can be supplied. Currently, the network is insufficient to grow access to electricity, which is why the company has targeted to build and grow the network to cover 12, 422 kilometers by December 2022.
ESCOM has since obtained a loan of USD 105 million, through government, from the World Bank under the Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP) to finance the extension of its distribution network, referred to by President Chakwera in his Parliament speech.
CONNECTING 60,000 CUSTOMERS YEARLY
According to Kanyama, through MEAP, 60,000 customers will be connected per year, but additional financing is required to meet the December 2022 target, and to increase access from the current 13.5% to 30%. By March this year, ESCOM and MERA would have completed all groundwork for the financing of 30, 000 new connection and to ensure that Malawians have safe and reliable power. This will include putting in place a mechanism for a 24-hour fault restoration in line with global standards, and to reduce losses owing to vandalism of electricity equipment.
“To stem off loss of equipment to vandalism, we are currently increasing guarding of our transformers and we are also working with law enforcement agencies to identify buyers and sellers of ESCOM equipment. We are also working with Ministry of Civic Education (MICE) and their partners on civic education, to educate Malawians on the dangers of vandalizing electricity equipment. We have also put in place a whistle blowing mechanisms, which includes reaching out to communities, including traditional leaders across the country to curb vandalism of ESCOM property. In addition, we have standby repair arrangements to quickly restore transformers that are damaged,” said the Acting CEO at a press briefing organized by the Ministry of Information in collaboration with players in the energy sector aimed at providing Malawians with information on the status of energy in the country on Friday, January 7, 2022.
IMPROVING ESCOM CAPACITY
President Chakwera and his government have put in place a policy framework that is improving the capacity of ESCOM and allowing it to supply safe and reliable electricity to Malawians.
There are now a lot of improvements and adjustments that are being implemented at ESCOM, including putting in place a digitized system to track customer complaints so that there is little time between making a complaint and response. ESCOM has also adopted an SME Order where some tenders and Requests for Quotations (RFQs) are reserved for Malawian Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in line with government’s policy of ensuring that local suppliers are empowered economically.
In his remarks at the same event, government spokesperson and Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, said the challenges being faced by the country now emanate from 26 years ago, adding that those always blaming government must understand that this is the time to work together to fix the country and not apportioning blame. He said there are some problems that need long term solutions and cannot be solved overnight, and called for understanding and patience.