Monday, September 21, 2020

Dead in the water

A secondary school teacher who this week moved from Molapowabojang to start work in Gaborone is so excited that for once, he will go to sleep without worrying about whether he will have a toilet to relieve himself the next day.

The young teacher has had a difficult stint in Molapowabojang, to say the least. He remembers having to buy water from the neighbouring town of Lobatse to bath and cook his meals. All the while, he watched his pupils drink water from open wells and dams.
For close to a month, he could not use his water borne toilet and had to dash to the nearest bush to relieve himself. “The situation was really pathetic.

Students from the two primary schools and community junior secondary school in the village all used the nearby bush to relieve themselves. You can imagine the health risks,” he recalls. The roar of the council trucks towing water bowsers from Lobatse to the thirsty village was a signal for all hell to break loose. Desperate residents fell all over each other as they scrambled to get a drop of the scarce blue gold. Botswana Press Agency (BOPA) reporters had a field day filing similar stories with datelines from Kanye, Molepolole, Maun, Serowe, Hunghukwe, Ncaang and Monong.

So what went wrong after the councils of Molapowabojang, Molepolole, Maun, Kanye and Kgalagadi voted millions of pula to address the water problem at these villages?

Well, this: boardroom rifts on project designs, questionable decisions that boarder on corruption and, of course, there was more guess work than homework at the Department of Water Affairs.

In some villages, the feel good mood that followed reports of planned projects to provide running water seem a distant memory – and with the recent announcement of an impeding drought, a winter of discontent awaits. One of the reports that have been passed to The Sunday Standard reveals how the wheels first began to come off the wagon when the Department of Water Affairs awarded contracts for the supply of pipes to be used in the Hunhukwe, Ncaang and Monong water supply project. The Department of Water Affairs authorities closed their eyes to the tender requirements and accepted sub standard pipes that did not meet tender specifications.

According to the report, no sooner had the pipes been laid on trenches than they began bursting and leaking. “Actually, water never reached Ncaang and Monong tanks,” states the internal investigation report from the Department of Water Affairs. The confidential report concluded that “lack of proper communication amongst the crew led to failure to address the problem of the scheme in time. One such instance is when the pipes where brought from site after the construction crew complained of their quality.” Water Affairs Department authorities, however, stuck up their finger at the complaining crew and sent them back to site without addressing their query.

According to information passed to The Sunday Standard, this incident was followed by a flurry of written queries from one of the project managers reiterating the complaint about the sub standard pipes. As it turned out, the reports were filed and left to gather dust while construction of the project went on. In a strange coincidence, when the pipes started bursting, the office where the reports were filed was broken into and the files stolen.

Subsequent investigations by the Department of Water Affairs in collaboration with the Botswana Bureau of Standards confirmed complaints that the pipes were sub-standard and did not conform to tender specifications. The report from the investigations, a copy of which has been passed to The Sunday Standard states that “failure of the pipe is attributed to quality of the pipe material. This is evidenced by the cracking of the pipes when they were unrolled and the failure of the pipe to meet SABS 533.”This is in spite of the fact that in his tender document, a copy of which is in the possession of The Sunday Standard , the supplier claimed that the pipes he was supplying “ were manufactured to SABS 533 or equivalent “ standard as specified in the tender advertisement.

The substandard pipes which were also used in Molepolole, Kanye and Maun have all since collapsed and have had to be exhumed at a staggering cost to tax payers while the supplier was let off. Subsequent frequent disruptions in water supplies in Molepolole, Kanye and Maun would later set villagers against each other; parents against children, tribal authorities against their subjects and opposition politicians against ruling party politicians. In the run up to the 2004 elections, Maun MP, Ronald Ridge, came under heavy criticism from opposition party politicians who accused the government of not doing anything to solve the village water problem. During a Radio Botswana debate, the water crisis in the village emerged as the biggest campaign issue in Maun. In Molepolole, tribal authorities blamed villagers and farmers for the water crisis. They accused villagers of wasting water while the village was dying of thirst. In all this controversy, it was only Water Affairs authorities who emerged unscathed.

Despite millions of pula that have been lost in substandard pipes, the Water Affairs Department watchers, however, maintain that in their “goof-o-meter” the Molapowabojang blunder is the biggest ever.

Under pressure from villagers who had had it with the water shortage, the Department of Water Affairs muddled through the design of the village water supply and rushed to implement it even before testing water from the boreholes around which the designs were drawn ÔÇô despite expert advice to the contrary.

After the water supply infrastructure had been installed and the pumps were ready to be switched on to put the villages out of their troubles, it then emerged that the boreholes around which the water supply was designed did not have water.

As a result, Molapowabojang is saddled with a complete and ready to switch on water supply infrastructure, but the village water taps are still dry because there is no borehole from which they can pump the water.

The Director of Water Affairs Boikobo Paya and his managers could not be reached for comment as they were out of the office the whole week, attending the handover of the controversial Serowe sewage system.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.