Suspect in water case defends drilling decision

In this undated photo, the Ministry of Water can be seen. The IACC referred to public prosecution a case of suspected corruption involving former officials at the ministry. (Amjad Al-Tawil/Jordan News
In this undated photo, the Ministry of Water can be seen. The IACC referred to public prosecution a case of suspected corruption involving former officials at the ministry. (Amjad Al-Tawil/Jordan News)
AMMAN — A former official implicated in the recent inquiry by the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission (IACC) into suspected corruption in water projects defended the ministry’s decision saying: “It was the fastest, cheapest, and best option.”اضافة اعلان

The IACC referred to public prosecution a case of suspected corruption implicating officials at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, who allegedly referred in 2018 a JD15-million tender to a bidder to dig seven underground wells in an area south of Amman, against expert warnings related to the quality and safety of the water at the location.

The former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Jordan News in a phone interview that “the project of drilling wells in the Khan Al-Zabeeb area came out as a real solution … to the water problems in Jordan. The project was studied in 2011, with French, German, and US expert entities.”

“This project covers Jordan’s need for water for many years (with) a minimum budget and minimum time, unlike the (proposed) Aqaba water desalination project — which will cost JD3 per cubic meter and a budget of approximately JD2 billion to proceed with it, and a working time minimum of 8 years for it to be completed,” the official said, noting the water from Khan Al-Zabeeb would cost JD1 per cubic meter.

“They accuse me of drilling in locations with high radiation in ground water. But I can say that all our water sources contain high radiation. That is why we have the large water purification facility that is capable of filtering it and totally removing heat and radiation,” the same source claimed.

Adnan Al-Zou’bi, a former assistant secretary-general at the Ministry of Water, confirmed to Jordan News that purification plants guarantee that water is clear and suitable for human consumption. 

“Jordan is really strict when it comes to the quality of water. Its standards and criteria are even more precise and accurate than the international standards,” he said. 

Studies that objected to the project concluded that Khan Al-Zabeeb water has “very high” temperatures and salinity levels in the wells, which were also found to contain alpha and beta rays in quantities hovering around 20–50 times the specifications for drinking water in Jordan, in addition to traces of radium. 

Zou’bi said that “in this case, the water’s radiation rate is higher than the minimum permissible percentage. Even if the project covers Jordan’s needs for water, they should have looked for the quality not the quantity. Either way, studies can easily decide whether the water’s quality is suitable for human use or not.” 

An attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Jordan News: “we cannot anticipate the court sentences that will be issued for each suspect, and case. The sentence is tougher when the negligence of the suspect is proven.

“The case may take long time. In such cases, a committee is formed to investigate the exact details of the case. The committee may consist of legal and economic experts too,” he claimed. 

A source from the IACC told Jordan News that when cases are referred to the public prosecutor’s office, they are then not under the commission’s jurisdiction anymore.

According to an IACC statement, investigations revealed that the acting minister at the time had been a partner at the company that won the tender before assuming office. The acting minister, according to the statement, awarded the bid without heeding the warnings included in the study, which was conducted by a British expert, along with a technical report compiled by the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. Both reports found that treating the water in the wells would be difficult and costly.

The project started in 2017, when two bidders estimated the cost at JD26.796 million and JD26.998 million. The decision was postponed till the next year, when the first bidder agreed to lower the cost to JD14 million and was subsequently awarded the contract.

The Water Ministry “disregarded the regulations in effect at the time, under which it was mandatory to coordinate the plan with the Department of Land and Survey and the Natural Resources Authority.” The latter had conducted its tests and found “very high concentrations of uranium,” according to the graft watchdog. 

The ministry also failed to coordinate with the atomic energy agency, ignoring the fact that the area was a concession zone as per a previous Cabinet decision.

Read more National