Residents in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, claim employers and officials from the country's power utility are targeting bill defaulters, seeking backhand payments to bypass disconnections.
In a new report the Harare Residents Trust says it has received numerous complaints from residents saying ZESA employees were threatening and abusing them and asking for bribes to by-pass disconnections for customers who are failing to cope with huge bills.
Also worrying residents is ZESA’s billing system, which they say is short-changing them.
The power utility recently warned consumers and businesses to brace for increased load-shedding as it works to recover nearly $500 million in debts.
Many consumers argue ZESA has been over-estimating the power they are using and are angry at the long load shedding periods and poor debt management by the power utility.
HRT coordinator, Precious Shumba, says the most concerning has been the sub-par response from ZESA officials when it comes to dealing with residents’ complaints.
"Residents particularly in Glen Norah, Highfield, Kuwadzana Extension are saying when ZESA employees visit those areas, they move around in two groups, the other group is threatening and hurling abusive statements at the affected residents and the other one trying to negotiate and get bribes," said Shumba.
"They have actually raised money they demand in bribe, they used to demand around $15 to 20 now they are asking for $30."
ZESA spokesman Fullard Gwasira told VOA residents must work directly with utility officials to avoid losing hard-earned cash to fraudsters.
"While I am not exonerating our staff, the issue of corruption is a two-way street, somebody must offer and somebody must accept," said Gwasira.
"I would like to urge our customers to pay and do the right thing, if you been asked to pay your bill, pay your bill to ZESA and not just any individual," said Gwasira.
Gwasira said no customer should be disconnected if they have made their necessary payments.