Saturday, March 6, 2021

Botswana’s biggest manmade disasters will drag the economy down

The Botswana economy is facing restrictive growth due to the ongoing crisis in the water and energy sectors. On Monday, the central bank gave a stern warning that the ongoing power and water shortages are likely to result in negative impacts on the growth of the local economy, both in the short and long run. The opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change also sang the same chorus on Thursday at a press conference called to address the crisis in the two critical sectors.

Botswana is currently facing restrictive power supply as breakdowns and maintenance at Morupule B power plant forces it to run at about a third of its capacity. At the same time, the country, particularly the southern part is faced with recurring water shortages which sometimes runs into several days.

The President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko and his right hand man, Ndaba Gaolatlhe share the same sentiments that when it comes to the energy sector, the real scandal remains the appalling inability of the then cabinet to select a credible and competent company to build a power station of what was to be Morupule B.┬á??The Chinese company, CNEEC, won the tender to build the power station ahead of four other companies, one from India, another from Europe and two others from China. This was despite the fact that before winning the tender, CNEEC had no proven record of constructing power stations of over 1000 mega watts.??At the same time, before awarding the Morupule B tender the then cabinet knew very well that a five year power supply agreement which was set up between Eskom and the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) at the beginning of 2008 was uncertain after South Africa decided to cut back on supplies to neighbours so as to meet its growing domestic demand.┬á??In 2013, on the eve of last year’s general elections, the situation became desperate as demonstrated by the government’s risky political decision to switch on the controversial power plant although it was not ready for commissioning as confirmed by the African Development Bank.┬á

To date the boilers of the plant remain a potential environmental hazard. This is despite the fact that when the project was started, it was sold to the nation as a panacea to all of the country’s electricity needs. However, as it stands, the project will need atleast two or three more years before it can work at full capacity, atleast according to BPC.

While the corporation seeks to engage in a long term strategy that will culminate in a complete redesign of the four units of the Palapye based power plant, it will in the meantime implement interim measures meant to minimise risk of ‘failure’ of the plant’s boilers. Chief Executive Jacob Raleru said last week Thursday that by June this year, the Corporation will kick start the interim measure exercise with unit three, followed by the other three units in due course. The power plant consists of four units all capable of producing 150 MW individually and 600 MW collectively. However, the Corporation has admitted that at the moment only two units are operational though they are not producing power at full capacity. This has left most parts of the country in the dark each and every day between 6pm and 10pm, and sometimes even beyond. The power cuts have affected various companies which have since slashed down their production forecasts.

THIRSTY NATION

Whilst battling with the non availability of energy, dwellers of the capital Gaborone and the surrounding villages are also adopting to living without water.

Just this past Monday, the Water Utilities Corporation announced that it will cut water supply for atleast three consecutive days. The cut came as a result of the corporation’s decision to shut down the North South Carrier Scheme pipeline after it exploded near Palapye on Monday. By close of business on Friday, most parts of the capital city still had no water forcing most businesses to release their employees earlier than usual operational times.

The North South Scheme, a pipeline that transports water from Letsibogo Dam to the South of the country and supplies Palapye, Mahalapye, Serowe and the greater Gaborone area, just like Morupule B, is a victim of substandard tendering, atleast according to the UDC.

While the government looks into building another pipeline, NSC II from Dikgatlhong dam to the south, the pipe will only reach Gaborone around 2020. WUC says the newly commissioned Dikgatlhong Dam has been supplying water to the same areas through the same pipeline, relieving Letsibogo dam.

At the same time, and as it stands, WUC is living on borrowed time. The corporation’s financial woes could soon render it incapable of delivering on its key mandate of providing the country with clean, fresh water. WUC Communications Manager, Matida Mmipi admitted to Sunday Standard previously that the corporation’s cash reserves have dried up over the past few years as it was forced to divert its cash resources towards financing the country’s Water Sector Reforms project.┬á?Records show that WUC recorded a net loss of P191.1million in 2013 which was a great improvement from P541.6 million in 2012.┬á

??Subsequent losses have been attributed to challenges relating to implementation of the Water Sector Reforms Project, which include increased costs on waste water treatment and distribution, rehabilitation of infrastructure inherited from District Councils, increased staff and training costs, amongst others. WUC also had to battle with clients who simply refused to pay their water bills. By 2012 the corporation was owed as much as P243 million in unpaid water bills by customers who included government departments, parastatals and individual households.

At some point in 2014, the corporation announced that it was harmonising and reviewing its tariffs.┬á??Parallel to that, the WUC executive announced plans to intensify debt collection in a bid to improve the corporation’s cash flow. The corporation writes in its 2013/14 annual report that vandalism of its infrastructure was another challenge that had an adverse impact on its operations.┬á??These myriad of problems combined with a marked decline in rainfall, particularly in the south of Botswana where the water supply situation is deplorable, conspired to sound a death knell for the bed ridden WUC. Panic stricken, the corporation has since implemented what is popularly known as water-shedding and issue warnings to its clients that they “may experience low pressure to no water supply even outside their water rationing schedule.

”??New Broom, Still no water??In early 2013, WUC made headlines in the local media for the wrong reasons. The corporation’s top management was accused of incompetence, poor governance, dubious appointments and abuse of funds by middle managers who were disillusioned because their opinions were always ignored. Fast forward to May 2014, former CEO Godfrey Mudanga was given the boot and replaced with Leornard Nxumalo in early December last year. Prior to his appointment Nxumalo was WUC’s transformation advisor after having previously worked for Swaziland Water Services Corporations as Strategic Services Director.

It is not clear whether he played any part in the dismissal of Mudanga and his top executives.??He has been given two and half years to deliver, and it is still too early to determine his performance. He brings with him a wealth of experience, as he has provided transformation services to countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and Lesotho. What is certain though is that he takes over at a time when the corporation is tottering on the brink of collapse and financial ruin. Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo confirmed that WUC is broke during the budget speech in February this year.

In the meantime, the public outcry against WUC’s poor water supply service in the country has been dismissed by government and WUC as not being their malfunction but instead as, the extent of water supply challenges in the country.

Minister responsible for water, Kitso Mokaila said last week Thursday that there have been no improvements in water levels in the southern part of the country during the recent rain season around the festive season.

Botswana receives water through rainfall and recently the weather patterns have become very unpredictable culminating in dwindled precipitations. But UDC’s Ndaba Gaolatlhe believes the shortage of water is a manmade disaster that came about as a result of the underinvestment on water transfer infrastructure. The party has promised to mobilise the civil society to take the nation’s frustrations to the streets in no time.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper