Demystifying the Lusaka water and sanitation project

By Staff Reporter

The rehabilitation of water supply and drainage systems in Lusaka finally closed on November 5 this year, although works were incomplete.

This was a bilateral programme entered into between the Zambian government and the United States government, with the latter pumping in US$354.8 million under the Millennium Challenge Corporation over a six-year period.

Zambia became eligible for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding in December 2008. MCC is the United States government’s bilateral foreign aid agency established in 2004. And before MCC disburses funding to any country, the country’s eligibility must be determined. To be eligible, country must practice overall good governance and should have a policy environment that will allow MCC funding to be effective in reducing poverty and promoting economic growth.

The Lusaka project involved improvement of water supply and sanitation. This further saw serious works on the main drainage, Bombay, which runs from Kamwala south, through the city centre and Chipata compound into Ngwerere River, north-east of the city. Water supply has also been improved in compounds such as Chawama, Jack, John Laing, and parts of Kanyama. Others are Chipata, Garden and Kabanana township.

When the programme began, the key objectives were, among others, to decrease water-related diseases and improve the financial sustainability of the city’s main water supply and sanitation utility, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company. At the time, approximately 1.2 million residents were expected to benefit from the project.

However, the impression created by some government officials is that the project has been fully  funded by public coffers. Sponsored ruling party functionaries have often times bragged about the project, claiming to be a product of a hardworking government. Yet, the government failed to execute their part to this agreement. According to the agreement, the government was supposed to contribute resources. In fact, there was a law enacted by the Zambian Parliament as a guide to running the MCC Zambia programme.

Section 2.5 (d) of the Millennium Challenge Compact Act No. 6 of 2013 states that: ‘’Unless the Government discloses otherwise to MCC in writing, MCC Funding will be in addition to the resources that the Government would otherwise receive or budget for the activities contemplated under this Compact and the Program.’’

And in May this year, Millennium Challenge Account Zambia terminated two contracts with Elevolution Engenharia (Elevo) of Portugal worth US $52.3 million under the Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage Project for consistently failing to meet its construction targets. According to MCA Zambia head of communication John Kunda, the underperformance by Elevo posed a risk of not completing the infrastructure works on schedule. Elevo was contracted in February 2016 through a competitive and transparent procurement process to construct water supply and sewerage network in both Mtendere and Mtendere East.

This included laying about 60 kilometers of water main supply lines and 82 kilometers of sewer lines, and select sewerage facilities in Salama Park and Chelstone. In addition, Elevo was contracted to carry out works to replace old, leaking water pipes to reduce water losses in the existing network and to replace malfunctioning and obsolete water meters, in select parts of Lusaka to improve accurate billing.

However, the project ended somewhat incomplete as the government did not fully commit to the agreement. While MCC was doing its part in terms of resource commitment, the government did not comply fully. As a result, some parts of the project were left out, with excess funding surrendered to the MCC.