The Namibian government appears to be closing in on a deal to buy an outdated, undersized, overpriced French sea water purification plant that supplies uranium mines – a key industry in this southern African country. Details of the deal have been withheld from public scrutiny.
The plant, built by the nuclear energy giant Areva to desalinate water, was mothballed in 2012 due to a drop in uranium demand and to the Fukushima incident.
The plant is now up for sale but critics are lining up against any deal.
Kuiri Tjipangadjara, manager of engineering at the government-run NamWater, said it would be cheaper and better to construct a new plant. The original Areva plant was built for N$1,8 billion. The reported price tag today is N$3,5 billion – equal to a N$1,7 billion profit for the French company.
Further, the plant is too small, having been built for Areva’s suspended Trekkopje mine and not for a general water supply.
As a consequence, the cost of water from Areva would be a burden to water consumers, he said, adding: “Without a subsidy from government, it (water) will be unaffordable to the mines, other industries and the local authorities.”
Buying Areva’s plant, some have worried, would give the state-run NamWater a monopoly over water supplies. Recently, a foreign uranium mine that sought to set up its own water plant found itself blocked by the government.
Members of politically-connected families may also be in the mix as was seen earlier this year when former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s 27-year-old daughter Kaupumhote bid on a contract to replace water pipelines.
Kaupumhote’s company, Kata Investments, partnered with the China State Construction Engineering Corporation in the successful bid approved by NamWater’s board chair Esther Akwaake, a close friend of former First Lady Penexupifo Pohamba. The contract for the former President’s daughter and her Asian partner is in excess of N$200 million.
Some board members have reportedly complained about the tactics of Chinese firms to use well-connected Namibians in what they call “window dressing joint ventures”.
Namibian investigative journalist Shinovene Immanuel observed: “Areva came to Namibia in controversial circumstances, notably in a dodgy transaction that roped in President Hage Geingob as a ‘consultant’ to help UraMin (a company later bought out by Areva) acquire mining licenses. He admitted he was paid N$3 million for that job even though he passed on N$2 million to someone else for reasons he is yet to disclose.”