Honourable Folks, a question to folks at the helm of Blantyre Water Board (BWB): would they, in this 21st Century, invest in a city of dry taps where residents go to the bush to answer the call of nature and bath in pollutedrivers?
Blantyre City, Malawi’s commercial capital, draws its water from the Shire, the biggest river in the country and the only outlet to Lake Malawi yet for months, if not years, what the residents get from BWB is a seamless flow of bills, not water.
The cracked alluvial at the bottom of Mudi Dam, which serves as a reservoir for BWB, in the summer heat of last year somehow kindled the hope that the water situation would improve when the rain comes.
Ironically, water shortage in Blantyre is probably at its worst in living memory now when the rain is finally here, coming with such ferocity that it has already destroyed crops, property and even lives.
The parking lot at BWB is now as congested as that of Chichiri shopping centre as residents and businesses burn fuel and man-hours trying to draw at source the water they no longer can draw through the tap at home or office.
Which human, which animal, which machinery can do without water? Yet BWB, a monopoly with a market cut out for it by nature and not through marketing, is a business that seems to be perpetually struggling. You’d think bottled water is a rival product!
The board’s service keeps on deteriorating in quality as tariffs keep on rising, a sign that the monopoly is passing on to the consumer the huge cost of its inefficiency.
If you see water bowsers delivering water in some parts of the city, remember that the board is only pacifying the no-nonsense John Kapito of Consumer Association of Malawi who threatened to mobilise residents to set camp at BWB offices until the water shortage is rectified.
BWB needs prodding, right? But so too the government that runs the snoring parastatal. It’s years now since IMF championed privatisation on the assumption that government is a bad business manager.
Ironically, that statement seems to have only fanned mediocrity instead of spurring government into proving the Breton Woods institution wrong. The interference and abuse of parastatal resources by government is a well chronicled story.
But an equally big problem is how government chooses and rewards the management of its parastatals. The board is characteristically highly politicised, staffed with ‘friends of the President’ who do not have to worry about adding value as long as know which political colours to wear.
Management may have the requisite qualifications but not the passion for the job nor the best ideas on how to take the business to a higher level. I guess this is all because you rise or fall in parastatals more by how well you lick the stinking political boot than on how you fare on job performance. You just have to observe how the hiring authority is flexing muscles hiring or firing board members and management of parastatals!
But nothing justifies the fact that we haven’t heard or seen the CEO of BWB on the water crisis in Blantyre. It’s life as usual as BWB continues to speak on the water through its press relations officer. Does it matter that the shortage can trigger an epidemic? Does it matter that the shortage can trigger hypertension in an investor who has invested millions in a business which can’t do without water?
Will these and others continue to hear the PRO react to problems through prepared statements? Where is leadership here? And where is the city mayor or even government on this crisis? Talk about sleeping on the job!