EDITORIAL COMMENT : Last chance for council to fix Harare water issues

Harare City Council’s approval of the signing of US$868 million deals for water and wastewater projects with Chinese firms is a welcome development given the anxiety that has gripped the city in recent weeks, particularly when the situation reached a crisis point leading to the shutting down of Morton Jaffray waterworks.

This prompted Government to intervene in the crisis and put in place measures to ensure that there will be no repeat of the issue.

It is heartening that the city will follow through on its pledge to work expeditiously to ensure that the signing of the new deals is done in the shortest possible period so that work on this critical sector can start as soon as possible.

Town Clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango and the mayor will sign and submit the documents for the deals to Government within the next three days.

We are also told that the China-Exim Bank officials have since followed up on a previous deal of US$144 million after President Mnangagwa’s visit to China.

All the deals, according to Engineer Chisango are part of an overall solution to end Harare’s water challenges.

While this is all well and good, we should not think of popping the champagne as yet because we have been down this road before.

This is not the first time that council has flattered to deceive, lest we forget so soon that when the city secured the US$144 million Harare Water and Sanitation Rehabilitation Facility with China-Exim Bank a few years ago, we were given the impression that Harare water problems will be a thing of the past.

Two years on, there is no end in sight, actually the situation has worsened with various parts of the city going for years without receiving water.

Despite countless shutdowns of the Morton Jaffray plant to facilitate repair and maintenance work, there has been no joy for residents.

In fact, most people, especially those in high-density areas are now surviving on shallow wells and community boreholes, where they spent hours on end to get water.

This does not augur well for Harare as the capital city.

The city cannot continue to operate without sustainable water supplies, especially when the city fathers are pushing to turn the capital into a world class city by 2025, which will all come to nought if this critical area is not addressed adequately.

We hope that as the city works towards unlocking funding from Sinohydro US$237 425 804,68, China Gozhouba Group Company (CGGC) US$351 072 913, China Geo-Engineering Cooperation (CGEC) US$176 790 000, China Machinery and Engineering Corporation (CMEC) US$280 000 000, it will shy away from its propensity to abuse funds as was the case with the $144 million loan.

It a well-known fact that council splurged the money that it got under the facility on luxury cars for its directors, which had nothing to do with the project.

The same cannot be allowed to happen again under any circumstances. This is why our suggestion is that all the deals should be strictly monitored by Government right through to completion.

To this end, we feel that the Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing should set up a committee that works with council on these projects.

Government should second its engineers and accountants to work on the projects, while all transactions should be audited to ensure that every dollar right up to the last cent is accounted for.

After all, Government is reportedly going to assist council in repaying the loans, so it is in its best interest and that of tax and ratepayers that council is not left to its machinations.

In any case, Government has not made it a secret that it does not trust council to be left to its devices, especially when it comes to the water issue.

Furthermore, we feel that effective monitoring of the deals will be critical to ensure that there will be no embarrassment to the President whose timely intervention during his recent State visit to China is now unlocking the remaining US$72 million from the US$144 million fund.

The President had to make a special appeal to his counterpart Xi Jinping to influence a change of heart over the deal and all these effort cannot be allowed to come to naught.

It is also our considered view that once the deals sail through, the money should not be channelled into council’s coffers, but should be paid to suppliers of materials to be used in the projects.

Alternatively, Government should set up a pool into which the funds can be channelled so that any withdrawals are monitored and directed towards the appropriate purposes.

In addition, all the projects should have timeframes which will allow for the easy evaluation and allow people to keep track of progress being made.

Government and the Harare City Council cannot be allowed to drop the ball on this one.

Long suffering ratepayers in Harare deserve better from the city fathers. It is high time that the water issue is dealt with to its logical conclusion.

The foundation has been laid, what is now needed is for council to do the right thing and see the projects through.

We are watching, and the ratepayers are also watching with keen interest.