Cape of­fi­cials look askance at Um­geni Wa­ter plan

Sunday Times - - News | Fassie Feud - By BOBBY JOR­DAN

● Con­fu­sion sur­rounds the ap­point­ment of a KwaZulu-Na­tal wa­ter util­ity to help Cape Town avoid Day Zero, al­legedly against the ad­vice of city of­fi­cials.

Dur­ban-based Um­geni Wa­ter was last year em­broiled in a le­gal spat fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of ten­der ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. Its en­tire board was sus­pended and re­placed with an in­terim struc­ture that at one stage in­cluded ousted SA Air­ways boss Dudu Myeni.

Myeni has since moved on but the in­terim board still awaits the out­come of a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged ten­der ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, re­cruit­ment anom­alies and fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment.

A di­rec­tive is­sued in De­cem­ber by Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Min­is­ter Nomvula Mokonyane said Um­geni Wa­ter must build and man­age a 10-mil­lion-litre-a-day de­sali­na­tion plant in Cape Town.

City of Cape Town of­fi­cials said the move was sur­pris­ing, com­ing shortly af­ter the coun­cil be­gan its own de­sali­na­tion project com­prised of four short-term plants.

“We are also con­cerned about the ori­gin of this thing. There is no in­ten­tion of us pur­chas­ing it,” said an of­fi­cial, who wished to re­main anony­mous. The lack of de­tail about the Um­geni plant has fu­elled sus­pi­cions about the util­ity’s trek to the Cape.

Mokonyane and her depart­ment in­sisted this week that Um­geni Wa­ter was the log­i­cal choice to im­ple­ment the gov­ern­ment’s cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion. Speak­ing to the Sun­day Times af­ter a me­dia brief­ing, she scoffed at sug­ges­tions that Um­geni Wa­ter was out of place in Cape Town.

“That is silly. This is a na­tional Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion. Th­ese are util­i­ties of the na­tional depart­ment — we are not a fed­eral coun­try,” she said.

Trevor Balzer, the depart­ment’s deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral: strate­gic and spe­cial projects, high­lighted Um­geni Wa­ter’s “very, very good track record”.

De­sali­na­tion crit­ics say it’s ex­pen­sive, pro­duc­ing rel­a­tively small vol­umes com­pared with wa­ter re­use and aquifer sup­ply.

Um­geni Wa­ter spokesman Shami Harichun­der said the util­ity had iden­ti­fied a de­sali­na­tion ser­vice provider in a ten­der process. “Um­geni Wa­ter has stud­ied de­sali­na­tion tech­nol­ogy to ex­ten­sive de­tail and it has res­i­dent ex­per­tise to op­er­ate and man­age a de­sali­na­tion plant.”

Brew­ery bot­tles free wa­ter

South African Brew­eries ex­pects to spend about R24-mil­lion fill­ing 12 mil­lion “quart” beer bot­tles with pas­teurised wa­ter from its New­lands brew­ery’s spring and dis­tribut­ing them to up to 300 shops in Cape Town if Day Zero ar­rives. Ri­cardo Tadeu, SAB’s zone pres­i­dent for Africa, said the wa­ter would be free but cus­tomers would have to pay a 90c re­turn­able de­posit for each bot­tle.

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