Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
Author: Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Godfrey Chacha opens his cold store in the morning, the fish vendor in the bustling Tegeta market is not sure if he will be taking stock or counting losses.
« Power goes on and off all the time, worse still the fish get rotten quite easily. It is hard to manage this business without reliable electricity, » he said.
All too often he finds a trail of blood trickling along the white-tiled floor, a sure sign that his fish stock has defrosted overnight. Recurring power cuts have forced Chacha to scale back the amount of fresh tilapia he orders every week from Lake Victoria in the north.
Power supplies in sprawling Dar es Salaam have worsened in recent years. Blackouts are common for homes and businesses. Local entrepreneurs suffer huge losses when refrigerated storage units shut down and their meat, fish and dairy goods rot in the east African heat.
While the state-run utility company TANESCO attributes the erratic power supply to ageing infrastructure and system overload, residents believe there is another reason.
« There is simply too much corruption in the government, and I don’t think the current leadership has what it takes to end it, » said Chacha.
Tanzania’s energy sector has been dogged by graft scandals for decades and dozens of senior government officials have been implicated in dubious energy deals.
In the latest scandal, the attorney general, land minister and energy minister have all quit in the past four months after the discovery that $122 million had been siphoned from the central bank under the guise of energy contracts.
The funds came from an escrow account jointly held by TANESCO and independent producer IPTL, and are alleged to have been transferred to IPTL owner Pan Africa Power. Parliamentary reports show the money was transferred to offshore accounts held by private businessmen and government officials.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Edward Lowassa resigned over a shady contract with U.S. electricity firm Richmond Development Co., which failed to deliver emergency generators to resolve a power crisis. An investigation found the company lacked the expertise or financial resources to honour the terms of its contract.
Despite a barrage of criticism over energy corruption and suspension of foreign aid, the government is moving ahead with plans to develop its newly discovered natural gas reserves. Government officials say it will end the power crisis and provide the energy needed to develop the economy.
« We are taking various measures to stabilize the situation at the same time trying to pursue long-term strategies to provide a lasting solution, » said Felchesmi Mramba, TANESCO’s managing director.
Tanzania has an estimated 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its southern coast, which promises to make it energy independent.
But experts fear the new-found wealth simply provides a new opportunity for self-enrichment.
« We may have a lot of good plans and strategy, but if we fail to contain corruption from engulfing this emerging sector, the current situation is not likely to change, » said Benson Bana, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam.
IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPAND
For Chacha, the 35-year-old fish vendor, the rolling power cuts have made it impossible to expand his business.
« My customers would like to buy fresh fish. They are getting (very angry) when they realise it has gone bad, » he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Chacha used to clear up to Tanzanian Shilling 1,360,000 (US$800) every week, but the erratic power supply has eaten up the lion’s share of his profits, and now he hardly gets $300 a week.
« I am thinking of buying a generator, but the moment I do so, I will be inviting other fuel costs which will eat up my profit margin, » he said.
(Reporting by Kizito Makoye in Tanzania; editing by Stella Dawson)