The sprawling town of Chitungwiza, gripped by an unprecedented shortage of water with taps running dry for two months now, has resorted to privatising the provision of the precious liquid.
BY PAIDAMOYO MUZULU/VICTORIA MTOMBA
Out of the blue and without consultation with the residents, the council has come up with a curious solution to the problem, published through a short notice in the press. The local authority which has failed to provide water to its residents says the solution lies in privatising water provision to residents.
“The municipality is at an advanced stage of implementing a public private partnership [PPP]to achieve a permanent solution to the water challenge in Chitungwiza. In the meantime, municipality will ensure that all boreholes that are in a repairable state are attended to,” it said.
The council went on to say it was, in the meantime, trying everything in its power to have water supplied to households “one day per week” until a permanent solution was in place.
Council spokesperson Zephaniah Mandirahwe confirmed in an interview last week that the water situation in the town was dire.
“We have negotiated with an investor to partner council in water provision. The deal is now before the minister of Local Government for approval before we start implementing,” Mandirahwe said.
He said the council was also considering sinking more boreholes to help the situation.
“In addition to repairing the existing boreholes, we seek to drill new sites with a view to harness and put the water in reservoirs for reticulation into the water system,” he said.
Mandirahwe was, however, not willing to reveal the identity of the investor.
“We will only announce this officially after the approval by the minister,” he said.
However, information gathered by The Standard reveals that the company will be called Chitungwiza Water Company and would be controlled by a private investor who would have 50% shareholding.
The Chitungwiza water situation is further compounded by the town’s dependency on City of Harare for supplies as it does not have its own water sources.
As if that were not enough, Chitungwiza now owes Harare millions of dollars in payment arrears for water supplied.
City of Harare spokesperson Michael Chideme confirmed the situation.
“Chitungwiza owes us money running into millions but at the moment I don’t have the exact figure as I’m out of the office,” Chideme said.
Harare is currently struggling to service its own residents with constant supplies of potable water. The city says this problem will persist as it continues refurbishing its main water treatment plant.
The Chitungwiza Residents Trust (Chitrest) is opposed to the privatisation of water in the town.
Chitrest spokesperson Marvellous Kumalo said: “We do not support this because we are aware that privatisation will result in residents paying more for the service.”
He said council was trying to entice residents to endorse privatisation by giving them a 10% shareholding in the water company.
“We have been informed of the setting up of the private company to manage water in the council. The council said the company will be controlled by a private investor who will have 50% of the shares, with residents controlling 10% and the rest of the shareholding will be in the hands of council,” added Kumalo.
The water privatisation comes hardly a year after the city privatised its traffic municipal police. It formed a new company called Parkrite that is now enforcing traffic regulations in the town.
At one point commuter omnibus operators demonstrated in the town against the brute and unconventional ways Parkrite was raking cars off the streets and demanding $100 spotfines.
To some analysts, the development mirrors the government’s thrust towards privatisation of services. A fortnight ago, the government announced the privatisation of refuse collection in all local authorities after it signed a deal with a relatively unknown company called PCF Waste Management.
It remains unclear how the private company will be paid as Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said his council and many others were also taken by surprise by the announcement in the media.
For now, privatisation seems to be Chitungwiza and the government’s solution to poor service delivery.
Meanwhile, Harare residents in dry suburbs are spending a lot of money every month to buy water as the City of Harare fails to provide constant supplies.
Advertisements for water supplies are being flighted in newspapers everyday as private companies cash in on the inability of local authorities to provide water to residents.
He said residents and other water users should pay their bills to enable council to provide them with the precious liquid.
He said council was owed $526 million, adding if the residents and other ratepayers paid up, council would be able to provide constant water supplies.
“People do not want to pay local authorities but they want to pay individuals for water. It is cheaper for one to get water from the local authority in a high-density area as it costs 75 cents to get 3 000 litres of water, which means every 1 000 litres cost 25 cents, while in low-density areas it would cost 40 cents per 1 000 litres,”he said.
Local governance expert, Percy Toriro said the issue of water had to be viewed in two different ways — one in the eyes of the rich who could afford to have a tank and buy water once or twice a month and the poor, who could not afford that.
“Council should increase reliability for customers because this is now an egg and chicken situation where the people are saying ‘why should we pay when the water is not available?’ What should start is to improve water supply and then [seek] payment,” he said.
One water supplier told The Standard that demand for water had doubled since last year. He said he was failing to meet demand due to low supplies of water from sources.
A Borrowdale resident said she had found the water business to be an easy way to make money.
“I have a borehole at home and I am supplying individuals who sell water at $15 per 5 000 litres. So per day I can sell 15 000 litres and get $45. This is good business. On average I sell water four days a week,” said the woman who requested anonymity.