CHINA Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) has expressed interest in revamping Harare City Council (HCC)'s water reticulation system as part of efforts meant to end perennial water woes gripping the capital.
Harare currently relies on antiquated, pre-independence water infrastructure laid in the 1950s to cater for a population of just 300 000 people.
The infrastructure has not been expanded despite the fact that the municipality now has to supply water to over three million people, including those in satellite towns such as Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth.
The boom in Harare's population has increased pressure on the ageing pipes, resulting in huge losses of treated water through burst pipes.
As a result, many suburbs have gone for years without running water, some even as many as up to 12 years.
This has also seen desperate residents resorting to digging unprotected wells, drilling private boreholes and installing water storage tanks to try and survive the crisis, with several outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid killing many residents in Harare and even spreading to other parts of the country.
According to minutes of HCC's Environmental Management Committee meeting dated January 17, CMEC approached the city fathers through the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) with a proposal to develop and facilitate funding for the procurement of equipment for the upgrading of the water distribution network at Morton Jaffray Water Works.
"A meeting had been held at the Office of the President and Cabinet with council officials in attendance and the minutes were attached to the report. The contractor (CMEC) had proposed to facilitate the acquisition of a loan at concessionary rates from the Chinese government, which was payable over 20 years. The facility was part of the mega deals negotiated between the Chinese and Zimbabwean governments and the water project qualified for funding," reads part of the minutes.
It was then recommended that acting town clerk, Josephine Ncube, sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CMEC to enable the Chinese company to carry out feasibility studies and scoping of work for the project.
Upon completion of the feasibility studies and project scoping, Ncube was expected to review the proposals and submit a report to council with appropriate recommendations.
"The committee noted that the Memorandum of Understanding would enable the contractor to carry out feasibility studies and develop a project on the rehabilitation of the network," noted the committee.
"The acting town clear would review the feasibility studies and financing proposals and recommend to council accordingly. The same recommendations would be forwarded to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing. Implementation of the project would enhance service delivery in Harare."
Listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, CMEC is engaged in international engineering contracting business.
It operates its business through three segments namely international engineering contracting, which is engaged in power, transportation, telecommunications and non-core sectors; trading business, which is engaged in international trade and domestic trade business and last, but not least, the businesses segment, which is principally engaged in solar energy components processing and assembling services and railway supervising service in South America.
However, there are concerns that the arrival of CMEC could result in the sidelining of Veolia which was engaged by council in June last year to do the same task.
Veolia is a transnational civil engineering giant based in France.
Council management was yet to sign an MoU with Veolia, more than six months after they were asked to do so by the city fathers.
Another area of concern is that CMEC is not necessarily into water infrastructure.
Environmental Management Committee chairman, Herbert Gomba, appeared to confirm the concerns arising from CMEC's sudden expression of interest.
"We were told that they (CMEC) came from the President's Office. We wondered why they were coming now when we have not been furnished with the MoU which we asked management to work on with Veolia, but we said let us just clear them to enter into the competition because, in any case, it would be good to have comparisons," Gomba said.
Veolia has activities in four main areas namely water management, waste management, public transport and energy services.
It is quoted on the Euronext Paris and the New York Stock exchanges.
Veolia is a world leader in water services.
It handles water and wastewater services for clients in the public sector and in various industries.