Environmental Corruption : The Case Of Harare’s Water

In the face of our countries onslaught of poor economic-political decisions and management one has to wonder if the basic needs of the people are not a priority then what more those of the silent environment on which supports our entire economy? Poor governance creates room for corruption which in turn leads to the direct misuse and abuse of natural resources. When such institution’s regulatory authorities are not properly funded and trained, individual administrators are often unable to resist corruption as means to make ends meet or they simply get on a power trip and can’t seem to get enough. Likewise, the independence of even properly funded institutions depends on the procedures and quality checks that facilitate the hiring and firing civil servants, how the institution is organized internally, and how specific legislation is implemented or in our case manipulated for self-interest.

Corruption on any level can be defined as the misuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption is not an exclusive feature of developing countries it ignores class structure, race and gender and is just as much of a problem in developed countries what differs is the severity. Corruption rears its ugly face, in the form of bribes, extortion and patronage. Corruption in Zimbabwe has been able to sink its teeth into everyday life be it a fine for fog lamps that are 1 cm too high, your airtime vanishing suspiciously or accepting there is a 30Bn Dollar road project commencing in 2018 yet some high density suburbs haven’t had promised sanitation and water services since the 90’s.  As a country we lack institutional checks on power as laws are greeted without any research or expert consultation input, where decision making is obscure and fragmented and civil society representation in decision making is weak if not absent. Corruption has real political, economic and social costs. Environmental Degradation is an additional cost of corruption that receives little to no attention.

Poor governance structures inhibit good governance and facilitate corruption in the environmental field:

  • Monopolies, whether state controlled or privately controlled by a corporation, create opportunity for corruption within the economic sectors in the environmental field for example suspicious water and electricity billing when the services are never provided.
  • The export partners of corrupt countries often exacerbate illegal activities which degrade the environment by providing the demand for natural resources for example poaching and illegal precious mineral (15bn worth of diamonds maybe?).
  • Countries that depend on the exploitation of their natural resources experience high levels of corruption, and hence poor environmental governance this is because good governance would ultimately promote transparency and accountability snuffing out the corrupt making way for fair economic trading of natural resources. So governments will in some cases turn a blind eye to corruption or even facilitate it.
  • The institutions and governments which provide economic assistance to developing nations, whether in the form of foreign direct investment or foreign aid, have the ability to influence behaviour if a country is corrupt. For example uneconomic tax breaks such as reducing export costs.

Harare Water Case

The Harare City Council’s dependency on ministries means they will sit and wait for orders from the ministries and will not take on any independent ventures unless asked to do so. With a water crisis hitting Harare, the authorities have spent a lot of money on water purification, some of which could have been diverted to managing, repairing and upgrading the water system (pipes that deliver water, leaks, at source filtration etc). This water treatment bill is being carried by residents who in the midst of an economic crisis are already financially strained. Population growth experts have warned that the water purification preference is unsustainable for a city with our current annual population growth.

Water should not be a problem in Harare because the current statistics show; one of our main sources of water is the Manyame which drains up to 365.5 megalitres (mgl) which is 365.5 million litres, the last census shows that there’s about 4 million people residing in Harare. So with Manyame only, everyone in Harare should get up to 90 litres per day.

Loss of revenue is directly linked to the fact that up to 440 mgl litres of water is treated a day, and +50% is being lost to leakages. One of the most evident leaks is between the National Sports Stadium and Long Chen Plaza along Samora Machel. Long Chen Plaza was built on top of a wetland which is unconstitutional following the EMA Act that prohibits construction on natural wetlands. There was no public consultation on the matter, expert opinions against it where ignored instead and a foreign enterprise that isn’t benefiting the economy was born. A new rumoured evil is that companies are draining the already stressed ruminant of the wetland and water from the leak, bottling it and selling it out. This is a legitimate health concern that is not being considered nor investigated.

In a well-governed Zimbabwe, responsible government bodies would respond to signals of environmental stress – as manifested for instance by public protest (consider Pamona fire or Lake Chivero pollution)  – by passing/updating environmental laws or ensuring the enforcement of existing ones. The transparent environmental governance framework would mitigate environmental problems and sift out corruption and mismanagement. This is a far cry from our present framework that simply reports when an environmental tragedy has come to pass. There is no sense of proactive measures just poor wish-wash reactive measures that simply watch on and await the next environmental crisis to occur.

Wimbiso Simbi


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