Residents demand transparency as BCC seeks to privatise water supply

Bulawayo residents have called on the local authority to ensure transparency prevails as it moves to invite private players to supply water to suburbs across the city.

Zimbabwe’s second largest city is on a stringent 144 hour weekly water shedding programme with the precious liquid coming out of taps once a week, while the council only has six bowsers, which are inadequate to service the whole city.

It is against this backdrop that Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has said it would soon invite private players into the market to supply water to residents using bowsers since the resource-constrained city can no longer cope with the ever increasing demand.

Residents have, however, urged BCC to make sure they critically evaluate private players and avoid a situation where unscrupulous people take advantage of the situation as was the case when the local authority allowed private players in the provision of housing.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) coordinator, Emmanuel Ndlovu, said as much as the water shortage was a crisis, the process to engage private players has to be localised so that residents play a role in monitoring the exercise.

“There needs to be transparency so residents can monitor who was subcontracted. The council can identify players who are able to supply the water and involve the participation of residents, local councillors and other relevant stakeholders,” he said in an interview with CITE.

Ndlovu said going forward the council should explain exactly how the privatisation of water supply would work out.

“Will council provide the bowsers or will they ferry the water? What exactly are the private players supposed to come in with and where will they source this water from? These are issues that have to be out in the open,” said the residents’ coordinator.

He noted from experience, private contracting had “failed dismally,” as it induced corruption while producing bad results.

“Private players must have capacity but in most cases we have seen substandard work. Worse, if a private company does substandard work, residents are unable to hold it to account as their contract lies with the BCC which sometimes does not follow up on their work. 90 percent of companies that were contracted to do housing breached their contracts.”

Ndlovu added: “Another challenge we are wary of is we don’t want to hear that a BCC project manager in charge of the project has a relationship with the company that has been tendered to provide water.”

Analyst, Khanyile Mlotshwa, concurred that water provision was a basic service that ought to be provided to residents.

He said privatisation has in the past resulted in corruption, as individuals with good connections usually get tenders ahead of others regardless of their capacity to deliver.

“We talk of standard when it comes to water supply but when you open such service provision to private players, it’s not obvious that water will be treated. Just look at what happened with housing when it was opened to private players,” said Mlotshwa.

“We have those coffin sized houses sold for thousands of United States dollars by certain companies. Private players are unscrupulous! Privatisation, tender system results in corruption; look at the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment case in South Africa.”

Mlotshwa said BCC will have to monitor private players to ensure they supply clean water to residents

“The question is since there is no water, where will these private players source the water from. This has to be divulged. We don’t want a situation where someone provides water that was taken from untreated sources and passes it off as clean. Because water can be supplied it does not mean it will be treated,” he warned.

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