The Botswana government, which is desperate to find additional water sources, is said to be in talks with Areva to buy its desalination plant at the Coast.
Sources familiar with the discussions told the Windhoek Observer that Botswana, which had previously indicated it wants to get into a partnership with the Namibian government to build a desalination plant at the coast, has made advances to Areva in the hope of buying its desalination plant.
Overtures by the Botswana government, comes as
Namibia has dragged its feet in committing to acquiring the seawater purification plant.
Sources told the Windhoek Observer that government’s plans to acquire Areva have been stalled by officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry who insist on building a new desalination plant, allegedly because they want to benefit from it.
“There have been a lot of approaches to Areva in facilitating the sale of the desalination plant to government, if we do XYZ, but Areva cannot do that. There have also been approaches from people within government that Areva creates an environment where they become the facilitators for the government of Botswana to become an off taker,” sources told the Windhoek Observer this week.
“The question is why are certain people in the ministry of agriculture insisting on building a second desalination plant? Is it because there is no money to be made by the civil servants in the existing project,” the sources said.
According to the sources, government has also been blocking Areva as a private company from having a bilateral agreement with the Botswana government, insisting that it should go through them.
“They cannot sit around and see a private company have bilateral agreements with a government, it must go through them. Government is saying if they are talks to share the ocean, then it must go through them.
“Government knows that the Botswana government has money to build a pipeline from the coast straight to Gaborone, but our government wants to piggy back on that, by getting them to build the entire pipeline and they become off-takers here in Windhoek or in Okahandja.”
Sources said it is more expensive to build a pipeline from the coast to Windhoek because of the incline, but less expensive from Windhoek to Gaborone.
The Areva desalination plant currently supplies all the mines and the population at the coast, while it also has the capacity to supply water to the central regions as well as Botswana.
“The capacity for Botswana is built into the water intake from the Atlantic because the capacity was built for 45 million cubic meters. In other words, you can bring another filtration plant next to the existing plant and bring it to 45 million cubic meters and when you do that, it is more than what Botswana and the central areas need,” the sources said.
Government will need to build a pipeline of about 200 km to bring the excess water to the central areas as there is some infrastructure already in existence.
Sources say Areva’s ownership of the plant, is making government uncomfortable, yet it does not want to take up the offer to buy it.
“The government has a bigger problem than just the cost, they have to bring water from anywhere it is located to the central areas because they will soon have problems because the natural aquifers are over extended,” the sources said.
The bureaucracy surrounding the desalination plant acquisition has stalled negotiations, with no discussions taking place.
In an interview with the Windhoek Observer, Areva Namibia Managing Director, Hilifa Mbako, said although discussions have been ongoing for years, no decision has been made.
“We have been stuck for five years and meanwhile everybody is suffering because the capacity of the plant is underutilized, while they are not talking to anybody to say what the problem is.”
“For Areva making money is a reality because the water plant is very profitable. We have an annual profit of about N$160 million every year. Why would we want to sell the plant?” Mbako said.
He said it was important that government becomes very serious in tackling the water problem particularly in the Erongo region, adding that the mines are still very uncomfortable that power lies with one person at Areva.
As it stands, sources said, government has two options, either to bring water from the coast or from the Okavango, but the Okavango option is already out as there is political resistance.
“There is serious opposition from political parties as to why they would want to bring water from Okavango to central areas when you can just bring the industries to Kavango and create employment there,” the sources said.
Meanwhile, government has contracted a German company to do a study on how to solve the water problem of the country.
“This company is a German company and we know that they have a vested interest in building a second power plant because they have the same technology as Areva. It seems like government is listening to the Germans because there is something to be gained by individuals,” sources said.
The initial plans by the two countries to jointly set up a multi-billion-dollar pipeline that will draw water from the Atlantic Ocean and be shared as desalinated water by Namibia and Botswana is still on the cards.
Mid-2016, President Hage Geingob revealed during a function held at State House that the two governments were in discussions to pump desalinated water from the Atlantic Ocean through a pipeline that will stretch to Botswana.
At the time, Geingob said it was a regional project that will be commissioned between the Namibian and Botswana governments to tap water from the sea.
This year, during the signing of the boundary treaty between Namibia and Botswana, former Botswana President Ian Khama gave the affirmation that both countries were looking into the possibility of investing in a desalination plant.
The signed treaty will jointly govern the use of the shared water resources between the two countries along the three rivers, namely, the Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe.
“We are exploring that possibility of a desalination plant. Both Namibia and Botswana are very challenged when it comes to water resources. Both of us, for example this year, are not experiencing good rains. There is going to come a time when the rain or rivers coming from the north will not provide sufficient water. So, we are exploring the possibility of setting up a common desalination plant,” Khama said.
However, he was quick to say that setting up such a project will be very costly – without mentioning any figure for the mooted project.
Khama said both countries were looking at the possibility of sharing the costs since it will be a shared project.
In an interview with the Windhoek Observer, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Percy Misika said he was not aware of the allegations.
When quizzed how far the negotiations with Areva were, Misika referred this reporter to the Deputy Permanent Secretary Abraham Nehemia who he said is the chairperson of the technical committee on water supply and security.