Interview Blessings Chidakwa
The City of Harare has been battling perennial water challenges over the years, with the past week being the worst as the local authority closed down its Morton Jaffray water treatment plant over the shortage of water treatment chemicals. Our Municipality Correspondent Blessings Chidakwa (BC) spoke to Mayor Councillor Herbert Gomba (HG) to get a clearer picture of the water situation in the city, challenges being faced in water supply and possible long-term solutions to the crisis.
BC: Mayor, what is the water situation in Harare after council shut down Morton Jaffray?
HG: Pumping and distribution of water has resumed at Morton Jaffray after the delivery of calcium hypochlorite also known as HTH, but I have urged the Town Clerk (Engineer Hosiah Chisango) to continue to look for more chemicals and subsequently ask residents to pay for their bills if we are to sustain and maintain the purification process. We have chemicals that will sustain us for two weeks.
BC: You have indicated that you have two weeks’ supply of chemicals, what plans do you have to sustain the supply of chemicals beyond the two weeks?
HG: Government is going to give us $37 million, which we will use to procure more chemicals and we will use it inclusive with our resources. We also have to generate more funds so that the issue of the shortage of water treatment chemicals becomes a thing of the past.
BC: But the city does not have a budget at the moment, how are you going to achieve that and how are you operating?
HG: On budget it is yet to be approved by the parent ministry. Yes, the budget was shot down due to some irregularities such as the absence of Sunshine City financial statements. We are working on the issues.
BC: Are the current water woes not a result of council’s failure to service its debts?
HG: We owe companies like Zimphos, but I don’t have the exact figures for now. The debt, however, increased after the introduction of the interbank facility as Zimphos was billing using the obtaining rate of the day. So if we owed them $1 million they would calculate the amount using the rate of the day. So say the rate was 1:15 they would say we now owe them $15 million.
BC: As the man at the helm of the country’s capital city what challenges are you facing as Harare City Council in terms of water provision?
HG: We are facing challenges to do with the interbank market rate which has outgrown our income. Foreign currency shortages remain a huge challenge in ensuring adequate water supplies for the city.
BC: Mayor, can we say the forex issue is to blame for the water woes when 65 percent of treated water is being lost along the distribution network?
HG: It’s a lie that 65 percent is being lost, who came up with those numbers? Who did the assessment and for what purpose?
BC: But Mayor the figure of 65 percent was dsiclosed by your deputy. Are you saying that he lied?
HG: I can’t comment on what was said in my absence. I am glad you are saying weeks ago. I think council’s work is work in progress.
BC: On the issue of money and forex you alluded to earlier on, I understand Government has availed $37,4 million and written off $135 million that council owed Zimra in terms of penalties. To what extent has that helped you in your quest to end the city’s water woes?
HG: We are grateful that Government heeded our plea for assistance in writing off our Zimra debt. We are now looking forward to the release of the $37,4 million which money we hope will help us to carry out much needed projects such as piping. These interventions have been critical because they will leave us with $4 million extra to service our city.
BC: Harare has on numerous occasions been accused of misusing the US$72 million grant from China to upgrade and refurbish Morton Jaffray. Can you shed more light on what the money was used for?
HG: The money was used to refurbish part of our treatment plant and a million of it was used by the caretaker commission which was appointed by ex-Minister Ignatius Chombo and had Dr Tendai Mahachi, Mr A. Tome, Harare Provincial Development Co-ordinator (formerly Provincial Administrator) and Mr Ozias Bvute to buy the project vehicles.
BC: So what is the city’s long-term plan on Morton Jaffray which still has unfinished works and Prince Edward water treatment plant since both their capacities are now way below Harare’s demand.
HG: The city cannot do anything besides refurbishments because the plants cannot be expanded anymore as that would drain more water and dry those facilities before the advent of the next rain cycle.
BC: Mayor, you have not apologised to the people of Harare for the water disruptions?
HG: No, I haven’t. The issue of water is a collective responsibility. Residents have to do their part, if you look at it they owe us hundreds of millions so the water issue is not entirely council’s responsibility.
BC: On another note, Government recently said problems bedevilling Harare are largely due to mismanagement and corruption, it declared that it has lost confidence in the city fathers. What’s your take as the man in charge?
HG: It is not true and basically it is not the reason why we faced challenges of this nature. The reasons are more to do with the removal of the 1:1 facility and the introduction of the interbank facility, plus the economic challenges we all are facing. The same challenges we face as a city are also faced at national level in terms of electricity and fuel. Therefore, it is not a situation peculiar to the city of Harare.
BC: Allegations are that your subordinates, especially councillors, lack the capacity to preside over the affairs of the largest city in the country as they do not have basic education qualifications.
HG: That is not true. Most of the challenges we are facing at macro and micro levels are more to do with the economy, I presume even those with doctorates are failing to run different enterprises.
BC: It seems that Government has lost faith in your administration and this week it announced that it would set up a committee to assist you in managing money for capital projects. Where does that put you as a city?
HG: Incompetence must not be measured along political lines and the need to score points, but to service our city and develop.
BC: Residents last received bills for April, meaning for the past five months’ council is making losses? What impact does this have on your revenue inflows since council’s excuse for failing to provide adequate water is usually lack of funds for capital projects.
HG: They have been receiving bills since we adopted the new billing system. The delays were more to do with the acquisition process and the need to get approvals from the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe. It was not intentional and therefore we see no value in accusations of that nature. We see value in adopting a robust billing system that gives confidence to ratepayers than to keep one that will drive away their appetite to pay in the long run, capital projects are up and running and we see value in what happened.