WILL WATER METERS WORK IN ZIMBABWE?

On Friday last week residents groups held a press statement questioning Harare City Council’s decision to install water meters in Harare. There is confusion after these groups claimed that the City Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said council was not going to install water meters contrary to the Town Clerk’s position on the same matter.

Residents have not been consulted and the process has not gone on tender raising questions on whether due process is being followed by the council officials. The discord emanating from town house on the matter has not inspired confidence in residents.

The privatization of water is happening all over the world. The commercial demands of water, urbanization and other agriculture activities mean the competition for scarce water is increasing. Countries such as China have roped in private players to provide water in the growing cities.

Although this has been hailed as a success it has not been without its own pitfalls. Zimbabwe appears to be following suit following announcements to install water meters in households around the city By Harare town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi.

It is worth understanding how other countries did it. In China there were four stages for water privatization .From 1949 to 1979 was a period for planning the economy. During this time, the water was supplied by the state with very low price. The second stage was 1979 to mid 1990s. In this period, the water privatization was started.

During 1990s to 2003, there was a rapid privatization of water supply. By (Built-Operate-Transfer) BOT, 15% to 18% profit was guaranteed by the government. This was to provide incentives for private investors to invest in water supply in the cities.

The fourth stage is from 2003 to now, where the government has continued with its policy of water privatisation. Most cities have private suppliers of water. China has adopted water. Foreign water companies have great impact in China now.

This is perhaps one of the lessons that the Zimbabwean government learnt from its visit to China to conclude what was reported as mega deals by state media. It appears the government has greater resolve to install water meters and privatise water in urban areas.

This privatisation of water started with the $144 million loan facility extended to the Harare city council by the Chinese. The purpose of this loan was to refurbish the water treatment plants in Harare. Many wondered how the City council would repay this loan considering that it was broke and there were reports of misuse of the funds. But the recent announcement of the city’s intention to install water
meters makes things clearer.

Residents will have to pay for this loan through the installment of these water meters since they will come at great cost to the citizens. Secondly residents will pay through their noses to have any access to water. The council will need to make enough money to keep water running through the taps but also have enough to service the loan they obtained from the Chinese. Residents now have to pay for the profligacy of council through these water meters considering that some of the money was used on luxury vehicles and salaries for council officials.

The privatisation of water hardly works if certain things are not addressed. Firstly, the transparency of the water market and public participation is very important. Harare will be in the first phase of privatisation of water which may initially appear cheap but there ought to be transparency in the market for water.

Suppliers of water will have a monopoly to supply water and if their actions are not sufficiently regulated, there is bound to be exploitation of the water consumers. Secondly, the quality of water supply after privatization needs to be ensured. Profit motive may result in water quality being compromised especially by private players.

Council must sufficiently address the expectation of citizens before it goes ahead with its plans to install water meters. Citizens need to be part of this process.

Access to water is a basic human right as declared by the United Nations and yet these plans to privatise water are likely to leave many poor families exposed

Already water is being sold around Harare for exorbitant fees but no-one imagined, it would soon become for sale for the whole city. There is need to ensure that the most vulnerable of our society are not deprived of access to water is council bulldozes and succeeds with its plans to install water meters.
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STEWARD BANK’S ACTIONS A CAUSE OF CONCERN FOR THE MEDIA

After Steward bank raided business publication, The Source last week armed with a court order, journalists from different publications took it upon themselves to defend what they felt was media freedom under threat.

In the eyes of the media and government, Steward Bank’s actions were tantamount to an attack on media freedom but through their lawyer Tawanda Nyambirai, the bank sought to clarify that media freedom is not absolute and ought to be balanced with competing rights of individuals.

Inevitably the altercation sucked in Econet who are the majority shareholder in Steward Bank. Many felt Econet had become a bully who was now a threat to the liberty of citizens.

The manner in which this whole thing unravelled presented three important issues that need attention. Firstly the state of access to information in Zimbabwe, secondly the state of ethics in the media sector, thirdly the cyber security of citizens in the country.

The Source is alleged to have had secured documents that showed that Steward Bank had given $30 million dollars to government and Mr Tawanda Nyambirai had helped to broker this deal and benefited financially from it. Secondly it would expose what Mr Phillip Chiyangwa owes the bank and the proposal to settle this debt through exchange of land.

Steward Bank misses the important point that any money loaned to government ought to be public knowledge. Banks cannot expect to enter into secret financial arrangements with the government and expect the media to fold their arms. Tax payers are the ones that pay back these loans and they have a right to know what deals Steward, Nyambirai or anyone else enters with the government.

It is therefore suspicious whether in this situation Tawanda Nyambirai and Steward are acting in the interest of their client as they are purporting or protecting their own private interests. Either way the media has a right to expose these dealings whether Mr Nyambirai likes it or not.

The matter is slightly different when it comes to Phillip Chiyangwa who is a private citizen but in the interest of investigative journalism that can expose potential corruption the media must be allowed to poke its nose where it suspects corruption may be going on. Here I do not suggest that Phillip Chiyangwa is corrupt but it is the role of the media to investigate and inform the public.

The Source therefore acted well by seeking to expose the dealings of the state and private institutions and persons that it perceived to be of public interest or whose dealings could potentially affect the public..

Steward Bank’s actions sought to undermine the media-source relationship by ransacking computers of journalists. These actions seriously jeopardised the safety of the whistleblower who supplied this information to the media. It was an affront to investigative journalism and hence an attack on our democracy.

Whistleblowers are pivotal in the fight against corruption and media ethics dictate that they be protected. The actions of the bank seriously put into question the safety of the ‘mole’ who rightly leaked this information to the media.

Lastly, it was self evident that the ‘cyber’ security of journalists and indeed other private citizens is far from secure in this country. Newsrooms need to invest more in cyber security.

What was done by Steward bank in the Source newsroom could easily happen to any other journalists. I have written about this in the past when state security agents forcibly took away phones and cameras at the airport when President Mugabe fell.

The country is also operating without a Cyber crime law which makes cases like the steward bank-source case difficult to deal with. Steward bank is a legitimate victim of cyber crime after information was illegally removed from its servers by an unknown person.

Citizens are in real risk of being victims of cyber crime. Government has not acted fast to put a law that protects citizens.

This is not to say its reaction was justified. Swiss bank had information about its clients published by the media a few months ago but did not react in the same manner that Steward Bank did.

Steward bank must respect the role of media as the watchdog of society. The media has a duty to report on issues that are of public interest. Instead the bank must vent its anger against the government which is stalling in crafting a cyber security law.

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