What is keeping Nanyuki’s water and sewerage services from improving?
This news item was written by Lillian Onyango in combination with her participation in the training on water integrity for journalists in East Africa that took place in July 2012 in Kenya.
The running of Nanyuki’s water and sewerage services changed five years ago. The town’s water supply and sanitation status has considerably improved but its progress is being chocked.
Francis Maina is the Managing Director at Nanyuki Water and Sewerage Services Limited (Nawasco). He has held that position for the last for three years, but says he is restricted in giving his best to the company.
Water services in Nanyuki, like all other towns in Kenya, were run by Municipal Councils Water and Sewerage departments. Later, with the enactment of the Water Act in 2002, the municipals had to form companies to run this function on their behalf.
Nawasco was formed in 2006 but only started its operations a year later yet its customers have refused to appreciate the change.
“If you were to go into town now and ask around, the people will tell you the council provides the water services. They see the company as part of the council,” Mr Maina said.
But that is not the half of its troubles.
Nawasco has found its hands tied when it discovered there is a limit to the things they can and cannot do.
“There are things mandated for the board and for the company to do, and they need to be very clear. The intention was good but there was one area left hanging – the transfer of assets,” he told WIN/TI Report during an interview at his offices.
He explained that with the assets tied elsewhere, their operations have consequently been affected and almost defeating the purpose of the change.
Also, the agreement bears a political twist such that Nawasco is owned by the council through its shareholding and it still has good control of the water services.
Political operations also comes in Nawasco’s way, the MD said politicians, who are shareholder, determine some of the major policies. This makes it difficult for the company to change some provisions.
“Like we have to implement the Corporate Governance Guidelines and it would take changing details in the Memorandum of Understanding, Articles of Association in line with those guidelines, which has to be done by the shareholders,” Mr Maina said.
He added that the hurdle has been in convincing them why it has to be done.
Effects of this would trickle down to the customer when the company is red-flagged in the industry causing, giving it a hard time getting funding for its projects that is customers have heavily gained from.
But it is not all gloom.
According to Mr Maina, one of their bigger gains is that they have managed to widen their client base. It now boasts of a number of about 3,000 newly connected customers in the last three years.
When Nawasco took over, it had about 4,000 customers and the number later grew to 6,500 in 2009 and the company’s area of scope is not limited to the town. It also covers the peri-urban regions and its environs.
“Nanyuki is engulfed by boundaries and since we are the only ones providing water we cross about five kilometres into Nyeri and into Meru,” he explained adding that they cover an area of upto142km2.
Revenue collection is another area in which they have gained ground. The company is now “more vigilant” and has recovered most of the money that had been inaccessible through unpaid bills.
“When it was the council running the show, there was something like political protection on some people and government institutions,” Mr Maina explained.
He went on to add: “Now we are working on commercial terms and have to collect our revenue. Otherwise, we will not be able to operate.”
This goes to explain how Nawasco’s collection revenue shot to almost 95 per cent from 65 per cent.
Also, they have been beneficiaries of grants, mainly from the Water Service Trust Fund.
Since 2009, Nawasco has received almost Sh90 million to undertake projects, which he termed as “pro-poor”.
“In that time we wrote proposals on helping the poor get water services and got the funding,” said Mr Maina.
So far, the money has gone into serving slums, informal sectors, public sanitation and extending its sewerage coverage.
Areas such as Likii and Rukuma have received a water storage tank and are currently going through the piping process to ensure efficient supply. And in Temu, the company installed a sewerage line.
“This was a matter of environmental concern the area is very near Nanyuki River and had no sewerage. So what was happening was that whenever the septic tanks and pit latrines flow, they would finally drain into the river,” Mr Maina clarified.
The company has built a block of public toilets and is in the process of constructing three others.
They also constructed two water kiosks to assist welfare groups make some money while selling the water at affordable rates.
The issue of illegal connections was nipped in the bud when Nawasco re-laid the pipes, making it difficult for people to make their own connections and made them visible for subsequent connections.
Nanyuki gets its water from Mount Kenya, which towers over the town’s horizon and guarantees it off an almost-all-year-round water supply except for three months during the dry season.