Editor’s Memo: Zim needs clear development policy

RESIDENTS of the middle density suburbs of Msasa Park and HatfieId in Harare congregate daily in the shadows of huge water storage tanks along Chiremba Road for the daily ritual of fetching water, and washing clothes and crockery. The daring ones take a bath there under the cover of darkness.

The two huge water tanks are ironically empty hence there is no water in the Eastern suburbs. But close by there is a damaged valve on a major underground pipe. There, water seeps out of liberally.
City authorities have pretended the problem does not exist. They have not made attempts to repair the damage to the pipe. Doing so would be tragic to the residents who consider this fountain wrought by delinquency by the local authority to be a godsend. It is their only lifeline. Unfortunately at night when the popular water joint is not patronised, the useful resource does not stop gushing and going to waste. Meanwhile the residents in these dry suburbs have continued to receive water bills and threats of being cut off.
Close to the empty tanks, a developer is servicing residential stands for prospective home owners to build homes. The households will be without water. New homeowners will be joining the queue to fetch water at the fountain of delinquency.
This embarrassing scene is being played out in many parts of the capital and throughout the country albeit with varying degrees of indecency and frustration. The reasons for failure by local authorities to provide water to residents are the same in all urban areas: unreliable raw water sources, poor pumping and treatment infrastructure, and dilapidated water delivery networks. The development in water provision has failed to keep pace with urban expansion. Now development in most urban areas is threatened and in some instances it has come to a grinding halt.
Local authorities and private developers will find it difficult to implement large residential developments if there is no water. Industrial and commercial expansion is also threatened.
Zimbabweans are today paying for government’s harebrained projects and persistent interference in the running of local authorities which saw patronage taking precedence over sustainable development. For example, problems of water in Harare are not new. Government has been alive to the challenges for over 20 years now. It has always been aware of the solution to the problem but has failed to deliver due to political bungling and poor prioritisation of capital projects.
The government has also been aware that Harare daily loses at least 30% of purified water through underground pipe leakages. The authorities have always been alive to the fact the city requires new water sources to augment existing large volume dams which are heavily contaminated with raw sewerage and industrial pollutants. The authorities have also been aware of their inability to finance the projects and hence invited financiers and technical partners to build Kunzvi Dam on a BOT basis. The deal collapsed in typical fashion, weighed down by patronage and corruption from pubic officials. The same is true for Bulawayo where the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project has remained on the drawing board.
The solution to the water crisis in the two cities still rests on the ability of the government and local authorities to attract investors to implement BOT or BOOT projects. For this to happen though the approach to such arrangements have to change.
Zimbabwe has over the years become notorious for its corruption and bureaucratic procrastination in the handling of large capital projects. In Harare the Kunzvi water project deal with Bi-Water fell by the wayside after it emerged that council had awarded the contract without going to tender. Since then investors from different countries, including North Koreans, lately have been paraded as potential suitors but nothing has come of that.
The government has a tainted record which requires cleansing before any hopes of attracting investment in public infrastructure development materialise. A key measure of the success of this inclusive government is going to be the ability by the state to repair infrastructure and implement greenfield projects in power, transportation, communication, and irrigation facilities.
Efficient and high quality infrastructure is of utmost importance to achieve a balanced development of the Zimbabwean economy. Infrastructure should be treated as a high-priority sector. Though the government has given prime attention to infrastructure development under Sterp, we are yet to see a demonstrable shift in the way government operates. There have been reports of government awarding huge concessions to private players in the agricultural sector without going to tender. What is required at the moment a clear policy on infrastructure development clearly spelling out guidelines for BOT and BOOT tie-ups. The government and local authorities should also prepare a register of projects requiring public-private-partnerships. Transparency is key here. Zimbabwe needs to carry out and complete a BOT project to convince sceptical investors. The sloppy work along the Bulawayo Road in Norton and the glacial progress of the Harare Masvingo Road do not inspire confidence. That is what we will be judged against.