Namibia: Interview with Vaino Shivute

Vaino Shivute

CEO (Namwater)

Vaino Shivute

Bulk water supply has been under the control of the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) since 1998. NamWater’s responsibilities are directed by the NamWater Act of 1997. Could you give us your thoughts on the evolution of NamWater activities from its creation to today?

NamWater was established in 1998 by the government through Act 12 of 1997 and its responsibility is to provide bulk water to the whole country. What we do is we get water, clean it and then supply it to our customers. Our customers are mainly municipalities, town councils, village councils, government and special institutions such as mines and other entities that are outside the local authority areas. We operate on a commercial basis as we are required to recover the cost that is spent on water, and also make a surplus so that we can invest further in water supply infrastructure and make the water supply business sustainable to the country.

Could you tell us about some of your structure’s key figures from its creation?

NamWater currently employs 620 employees who are scattered around the country and not only in Windhoek because we have to supply water everywhere. Our budget this year is around N$ 330 million. I think the next financial year we will have a budget of around N$ 360 million. Part of this amount, N$ 112 million is devoted to capital projects, that is now the budget for development and for new projects, while the rest is for other capital expenditure. In terms of water that we have to supply, we sell round about 65 million cubic meters of potable clean water for drinking purposes per annum and also about 55 million cubic meters of irrigation water from some of our dams and other infrastructure to farmers that are engaged in irrigation.

Where are your main customers?

Our biggest clients are in the central area mainly Windhoek and the surrounding areas. The system we have here supplies water to Windhoek, Okahandja and other neighbouring places. Those are our biggest customers. Our second biggest customers as well as the second biggest revenue generators are the coastal areas of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Heintiesbay and the Rossing Uranium mine.

You stated last March 1st during a media briefing in Windhoek (The Namibian) that you discussed a number of issues to prevent a similar flood. What were the conclusions of this meeting?

The conclusion of that meeting looking specifically at Mariental where the town was flooded, the government has actually put up a technical task team to look into long-term solutions to prevent flooding, because Mariental was flooded this year 2006, 2000 and then the previous flood was in 1972. NamWater sent out a team to Mariental to investigate as to what is it that can be done to solve the problem in the long-term. Our findings will fit into the government task team because we are actually part of the team that is looking into the long-term solution. They are looking at a number of options for the present moment. I do not think that I will dwell on the envisaged solutions because the team will finalise the proposed solutions and recommend the most feasible one.

Namibia has made great strides forward in becoming party to many agreements and initiatives with neighboring and/or basin states since 1990 (Permanent Water Commission Between Botswana and Namibia). Can you tell us a little bit more about those agreements ?

Namibia is a very dry country with average rainfall of about 300 mm per annum. It is however lowest in the south and it ranges from around 0 to 10 mm per annum, this includes the coastal town of Luderitz. Windhoek’s average rainfall is around 300 mm per annum, while that of the Caprivi region, as you go higher up north between 600 mm to 700mm per annum. That is the highest rainfall we get. All our perennial rivers are running at the borders of Namibia. These include the Orange River, which we share with South Africa. We have the Kunene River, which we share with Angola, the Zambezi River in Caprivi which forms the border with Zambia and other countries and then Okavango River, which is shared amongst Angola, Namibia and Botswana. These three countries have formed the Okavango River Basin Commission to specifically look at the development and management of the Okavango River. The commission forms part of the SADC protocol on watercourses which is the overall framework. It states that countries sharing rivers must put up river basin commissions to enable them to manage the shared waters. Very often countries do not always agree on how to use this water. When we speak to South Africa on the Orange River, they have been tough on us on the water because they also need water in South Africa just as much as we need it here. Botswana and Angola as well Namibia also need the water from the Okavango River, so we have to talk to one another and these basin commissions facilitate the management of this water in these shared rivers.

There are many agricultural projects in the North of Namibia such as the Green Scheme. How will it benefit to NamWater?

The four northern regions where most of the population live in Omusati, Oshana, Ohagwena and Oshikoto are our third biggest customers because we have one system that supply water to all those four regions. We have the pipeline system with the canal and purification plants to clean the water. But now, there is the Green Scheme, which the government has put up. We are also involved in the discussions of the scheme. The water that is going to be used for irrigation in the Green Scheme is mainly raw water from the perennial rivers with our neighbours. In terms of volume, yes that is a lot of water but in terms of revenue it does not generate as much revenue as the cost of water does and it is understandable because when you treat water you incur actual costs. I think that if the Green Scheme develops to the extent that it has been planned, it is going to consume a lot of water, but will not generate as much revenue as potable water.

Do you have a master plan?

Yes, actually we have a master plan for the country that was developed sometime back which really looks at supply in the central areas, the coast, in the north and in other parts of the country were we supply to different towns and villages. We are currently in the process of updating that master plan, in fact the budget for the next financial year has been approved and within that, there is some provision that we must look at this master plan and update it in order to look at areas that have developed and where there is need to supply more water in 5 or 10 years from now. We will try and supply more water as more development and more industries are established for it is our responsibility to do that.
6. When it comes to the updating of our master plan, we have some internal capacity that we can use ourselves but we also use private companies. We put out a tender and whoever comes up with the best proposal is awarded that tender. We then sit around the table to ensure that they work with our people on that assignment.

Your government has set a goal that you call “Vision 2030” which aims to see the country prospering in many ways (economically, poverty eradicating, attract international investments). How would NamWater contribute to this?

We must understand that water is very critical to the development of the country. In actual fact you cannot have development without water. Wherever there is going to be new development water must be provided. We are here to supply that water and maybe we must also understand where the water comes from in Namibia. I have referred to the fact that most of our perennial rivers are at the borders but most of the water consumed in Namibia, around 60% is underground water from boreholes. If you look at some of the smaller towns here, farms, other places and even parts of Windhoek’s water comes out of ground water resources. And then the second biggest source of our water is dams and ephemeral rivers that only flow during part of the year. Most of Windhoek’s water comes from the Von Bach Dam, Swakoppoort Dam and the Omatako Dam. They catch water during the rainy season and that water is used throughout the whole year. Then we have the perennial rivers that supply the towns and villages that are along the border. But at the coastal areas of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Rossing, and Henties Bay there are indications that current water sources is not going to last that long because projections are that the water can be supplied sustainably for another 10-15 years. We must therefore start looking for other water sources. We have been looking at desalination to ensure that new developments are in a position to start.

Your personal experiences are also of interest to us. Could you tell us about your career up to your promotion to CEO of NamWater as well as your greatest accomplishment?

I left Namibia way back in 1974, that is when there was a coup in Portugal that overthrew the “Caetano” government, which really affected the rule in the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. What then happened is that a lot of young people left Namibia to go abroad. I was part of that flood that left Namibia. I spend 16 years in exile. I was a freedom fighter and then after that I went to study. I studied in Lusaka, Zambia, and was sent to Botswana for my practical training after which I went to the former Yugoslavia for 6 months to study management for public enterprises. After this I was sent to the United Kingdom to study for my bachelors degree and then proceeded to get a doctorate degree. I came back just at Independence and worked for the government at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development. I started as a deputy permanent secretary, which I think was a very high position where I had to swim or sink. In 1997, I was promoted to become the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development, now it’s called the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. In 2002 December I was told to come to NamWater to actually manage on a temporary basis as acting CEO. Because there were problems, that needed to be sorted out. We have managed to turn the company around in terms of the finance because the way the company was in 2002, it was loss making. The year ending 2003 saw the company make a loss and likewise the year ending March 2004. NamWater made a big loss of N$ 69 million but when it was revised later, the loss turned out to be N$83 million. But from March 2005 the company made a profit of N$27 million and then this year, which is ending March 2006 I think we are going to record a profit which is bigger than the previous year. I think financially the company has turned a corner and we hope to keep it that way.

We’re here in the Republic of Namibia to promote the investment opportunities of the country. What would your final message be to our readers concerning these opportunities?

What I would like to say is that NamWater, as a company that is tasked to supply bulk water to the whole country is ready and prepared to live up to that challenge. It is difficult to supply water under the weather conditions in Namibia but I think we have the technical expertise and experience within the company to supply water under these conditions. For any investor that is out there that would like to invest in Namibia in any other industry and they need water they are more than welcome to contact NamWater. In actual fact, if they need water, the first port of call is really NamWater and we will be more than willing to talk to them. For possible partners in desalination, I think when the appropriate time comes, we will go out and invite tenders and if the project is big enough we will go out on international tenders and seek partners who are interested in participating in that particular project. So, yes, we are willing to work with local as well as international partners.