Today we spotted a rather odd OneMoney promotion on Twitter. According to the folks at OneMoney, if you buy at least $800 ZWLworth of water tokens using OneMoney you will be given a free additional 1000 litres of water. All you need to do apparently is dial *554# and proceed to buy a prepaid ZINWA token for your prepaid ZINWA water meter. This left us scratching our heads in a bit of confusion. Who has a prepaid water meter? Is this even a thing?

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A quick search revealed the answer. Apparently, there are about 16 100 prepaid water meters out there. That seems like a lot so why haven’t you seen one yet? It seems these are mostly limited to growth points, small towns and rural service centres. They are located at schools, domestic premises, churches and even parastatals. Unlike ZESA, meters they are installed free of charge. The idea is simple you only get to pay for what you intend to use instead of dealing with the estimates that the City of Harare and other big town councils use to arrive at your monthly water bill.

Prepaid meters are not the panacea

When prepaid meters were first introduced they were touted as the panacea to all our woes. They would prevent defaulting and allow companies like ZESA to collect revenue and prevent power cuts. That utopian ideal has never been realised thanks to a number of reasons:

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  • The biggest defaulters continue to have postpaid and even fixed meters. Government officials not only engage in corruption and loot in this country, they also default on their utility bills and the companies in question are powerless to stop them. This means that the biggest consumers or electricity are actually free riders
  • Legacy debts. Councils, ZINWA and ZESA have had to contend with legacy debts that have incapacitated them. The paltry amounts raised through prepaid tokens will not be enough to replace worn-out pipes, broken ancient transformers, a creaky electricity grid or improve power generation. For that hundreds of millions or even billions are required.
  • Corruption. We have shady deals like the Wicknel Chivayo power plant being the order of the day. All money raised through prepayments is wasted through corruption
  • Zimbabweans are poor forcing them to prepay is not going to change that fact. The reason why we were seeing so many defaulters is that they couldn’t afford to pay for water or electricity. With prepaid meters people just simply consume less. That doesn’t boost the overall revenue of the entity involved.