The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT), the current manager of the water project, is embroiled in a tug of war with the Ministry of Water Resources and Development over control of the project.
Water Resources and Development minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo announced towards the end of last year that the government has taken over control of the water project, a move that did not go down well with the MZWT chairperson, Dumiso Dabengwa, who accused Nkomo of hijacking the project.
However, Nkomo revealed this week that the takeover of the water project was not personal but a decision made by cabinet six years ago.
“The decision to take over the water project was made by cabinet in 2004 and what government is doing is re-affirming that position because the ownership of the project from the onset was by the government and MZWT was only managing the project, so there is nothing new with the government taking over the project,” Nkomo said.
He said the audit to be conducted by government would seek to produce a comprehensive report on the activities of the MZWT and MZWP that would be tabled before cabinet.
Nkomo said the government wanted an audit of what has been done since the inception of the MZWT and said audited financial accounts have to be produced.
“We need to know the liabilities of the water project and that entails producing accounts and accounting for everything that has been done since the project commenced,” Nkomo said.
The water project has moved at a snail’s pace with no substantial developments despite numerous cash injections by the government and other stakeholders and the progress of the water project has slackened while there have been numerous allegations of misuse of funds at MZWT.
The ambitious project to pipe water from the mighty Zambezi river, 452 kilometres away, in a bid to ease perennial water shortages in Matabeleland was first mooted in 1912 but abandoned by successive governments due to the high costs involved.
Some former MZWT trustees, led by former councilor and activist, Arnold Payne, took the MZWT to court in a bid to force the organisation to produce audited financial accounts.
However, MZWT has failed to produce the audited accounts report almost five years after the court application.
Nkomo said MZWT was one of the stakeholders in the Zambezi water project and said the government will work with all stakeholders including the MZWT.
“The project will from now be run from government offices but we will work with other stakeholders in the project and MZWT is one of the stakeholders but it is not the only stakeholder in the project,” Nkomo said.
He said the government decision to nationalise the project should not be politicised.
“There should be no politics in all this, the government nationalised the water project because there was no progress on the ground,” he said.
A Chinese engineering company, CWE, won a tender for the construction of a dam which was the first part of the project. The company only carried out excavation works, built access roads and identified a quarry site before abandoning the site due to lack of funding.
Investors who include the Chinese, Malaysians and Italians have shown an interest in partnering the MZWT in the construction of the dam but have all left in unclear circumstances.