Monday, June 5, 2023

Will the Govt establish water and energy regulator?

In his State of the Nation Address in 2010 President Ian Khama promised the nation that a regulatory body will be established for water and power sector but five years down the line it is yet to be established.

Except for the first seven months of 2016, Botswana has in the past few years been facing restrictive power supply as breakdowns and maintenance at Morupule B power plant forced it to run at about a third of its capacity. At the same time, the country, particularly the southern part also faced with recurring water shortages for most part of 2015 resulting in closure of some businesses.

This has forced Member of Parliament for Gaborone Bonnington North Ndaba Gaolatlhe to table a motion in parliament that seeks to force the government to appoint a regulator of the two sectors in place.

The motion that Gaolatlhe tabled last week Friday reads: That this honourable house requests government to establish an independent and autonomous water and power regulator to create an environment in which the water and power sector may benefit from significantly greater investments well as efficiency and effectiveness to citizens and for the growth of the industry.

Gaolatlhe argues that the worrying water circumstances engulfing the nation necessitate a regulator to compel sustainability.

“With the body in place, it will serve consumer interest, control water losses and support infrastructure,” Gaolatlhe concurred at the last sitting of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee mid last year.

Gaolatlhe has always been of the view that the current water and energy problems that are bedeviling Botswana are a result of gross under-investment on the two key sectors of the national economy.

At some point, Gaolatlhe gave an example of neighbouring South Africa, which has invested at least R4.3trillion in water projects over the next three years, a figure that far exceeds the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of R3.5trillion. Comparatively, Botswana has budgeted only P3billion for both water and electricity projects annually, which is less than the country’s GDP. Botswana’s annual budget is about P55billion while national GDP goes up to P140billion. On power production, the soft spoken legislature stressed that demand for electricity was exacerbated by government’s failure to invest in new plants and lack of maintenance of existing plants such as the old Morupule power plant. He also cited as a very slow developing private power producer market as amongst the factors that have led to the power deficit that is currently troubling Botswana.

The Botswana economy faced restrictive growth in 2015 due to the crisis in the water and energy sectors. In May last year, 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.

In his response to Gaolatlhe’s motion, minister responsible for energy and water, Kitso Mokaila said last week that his ministry had a plan to establish water and power regulators, but this proved not feasible.

“Initially we had thrown an idea to government to establish energy and water regulatory authority, but this was not possible,” he said.

Mokaila admitted that in 2012 when he joined the ministry, the idea was top in his agenda, but noted that cabinet only bought the idea to establish the energy regulatory authority, taking out water, reasons being that Botswana was sparsely populated.

“It would be an expensive investment because investors would want to recover costs of their investment which was not feasible given the smaller sparse population.” Mokaila said.

However in a rare gesture, parliament adopted Gaolatlhe’s motion on Friday paving way for establishment of the regulator.

The passing of Gaolatlhe’s motion comes hardly 12 months after the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to safe drinking water and sanitation Professor Leo Heller visited Botswana. In his visit, Professor Heller noted that the lack of independent regulatory body has led to poor water quality and unfair tariffs imposed on ordinary people.



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