(c) photo: NARUWASCO

Managing non-revenue water in Nakuru County

How NARUWASCO tackles integrity issues in rural water supply

The Nakuru Rural Water and Sanitation Company Limited (NARUWASCO) is a Water Service Provider under the County Government of Nakuru County and the Rift Valley Water Services Board. The company is the main water service company in the primarily rural area of 7,509 square kilometres, with a population of over two million.

Its major challenges are common corruption and high non-revenue water, in big part from leakages and illegal connections. Over the past three years, senior management at NARUWASCO has introduced a number of measures to improve integrity in its rural water service provision. Reuben Korir, CEO of NARUWASCO explains the need for action simply: ‘sometimes water supply is a monopoly and monopolies are a crucible for corruption. So if you don’t have a strong team which is independently looking out for the interests of its consumers, you have all sorts of things in contracts, in supply, who turns the tap off and when, at what hours, little things like that…’

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‘Corruption is a sort of cancer which eats at the heart of governance.’ – Reuben Korir, CEO of NARUWASCO

 

Water shortages and spaghetti pipes

Beatrice Wanjiku, a 50-year old Kenyan woman, is forced to walk over 15 km from her home in Maela village in Nakuru county to collect water from the nearest river. Normally, she would fetch water from the taps connected to the NARUWASCO water network. However, Wanjiku has not received water from her tap in the past decade. Wanjiku claims that surrounding villages, like Kirima and Longonot, have been receiving water, whilst Maela’s water pipes are leaking.

In her opinion, the area where she lives suffers from water scarcity because of poor management of resources and a lack of transparency by NARUWASCO’s former management. She adds that residents who have not been connected to the water network try to gain access to water by tampering with the pipes.

During interviews conducted across Nakuru county, including the areas of Gilgil, Molo and Kuresoi sub-county, residents say that most of the main pipes are normally cut off by fellow residents living in that area. According to them, these residents connect smaller pipes directing water to their houses to not pay bills to the water company. NARUWASCO is aware of the many hidden illegal connections and although leakages have been reduced since the new water management came on board three years ago, the practice continues. The connections are often referred to as ‘spaghetti pipes’.

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‘It has become a norm in the area to use the spaghetti pipes to have water in our homes. It is normally done at night, to evade the long hands of law,’ says Mary Mureithi, a resident at Langalanga estate, Nakuru county.

Wanjiku’s long walks along the thorny grass to fetch water for her livestock and household are tedious and dangerous.

‘A year ago on my way to fetch water, I encountered a python, just a few meters from where I was. I had to run for my dear life and wait to fetch water the following day,’ she recounts.

Her situation is far from unique. Many women and children spend up to one-third of their day fetching water in the hot sun from the nearest fresh water source. They all face the risks of attack by predators and are more susceptible to water-borne diseases, including cholera. Water pathogens are a huge health problem in Nakuru. The rate of exposure is very high because water is not only contaminated at the basins and pumps where water is collected; the containers themselves can also be contaminated and have often previously been used for oil, fertilizer or waste.

 

Promoting integrity and
enhancing anti-corruption measures

Three years ago, NARUWASCO had an estimated 68 per cent of non-revenue water annually resulting from leakages, illegal water connections, and broken pipes, according to NARUWASCO’s Chief Executive Officer Reuben Korir. He says that it’s not just water going down the drain, but also billions of Kenyan shillings in revenue.

‘Since the company has new management on board, the percentage has been reduced to 58 percent as of June 2017,’ says Korir. The largest percentage of non-revenue water, according to Korir, can be attributed to commercial losses including non-billing of water, under-billing, and illegal connections.

Most of the technical issues encountered, including leakages, can be attributed to the poor quality of pipes, says Korir. Some pipes are very old and have not been maintained properly.

By fighting corruption, Korir believes that he can reduce the price of water. He also believes that the slight decrease in the amount of apparent losses in recent years is a positive sign about the water company to the water consumers.

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NARUWASCO has recently introduced a number of oversight mechanisms and increased investment into better technologies to curb the water leakage challenges. The implementation of anti-corruption and integrity measures has become an important element of company strategy.

‘As a water service provider company, we have tackled corruption in a number of ways. We have strengthened accounting, auditing standards, and internal checks. We protect whistle-blowers. We have also created awareness campaign platforms, set up a complaint platform allowing customers to express their grievances, and formed an anti-corruption committee,’ says the CEO.

 

Non-revenue water management

When Korir took over the company three years ago, the board members formed a non-revenue water management unit, whose mandate was to assess the status of data recording, the network and metering, and to outline a non-revenue water management programme, also in terms of cost requirements. The unit issues recommendations to curb corruption, maintain integrity, and have transparent systems in place.

Measures the company has taken to reduce leakages include ensuring all test results and servicing reports are properly kept and recorded for future purposes. The calibration of meters is another measure, which provides valuable information on the accuracy of the quantity of water being supplied and can lead to appropriate decisions on maintenance or replacement frequency. Meters are also sealed as soon as they are installed and inspected for bypasses.

‘We have been able to lay off some staff, surcharge consumers with illegal connections and put penalties on them. It is a punitive way to fight illegal connections. The penalty is Sh 15,000 and above,’ says Korir.

 

Increasing transparency on plans and budgets and listening to customers

In an attempt to promote transparency, NARUWASCO now publishes its utility accounts, budgets, contracting arrangements, and annual reports. It also conducts public hearings.

‘We engage with our consumers at public hearings once or twice a year when we have major issues to discuss with them like issues affecting them, including changes of tariffs. The consumers are able to ask questions during the public participation exercise,’ says Korir.

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During the public hearings, the Water Service Board (WASP), the country’s water regulator makes sure all the issues discussed and complaints are taken into account. ‘They ensure we have served our customers and are satisfied with our service delivery, failure for which NARUWASCO is penalized. We take seriously the complaints of our customers,’ says Korir.

This is illustrated further by the successful introduction of a customer complaint mechanism or customer care desk. All complaints are now recorded and handled. Feedback is then provided to customers. The customer care desk provides a monthly report on the complaints, how they were handled, how long it took the relevant department to provide solutions, and the kind of feedback provided to the consumer. Additionally, NARUWASCO, through Rift Valley Water Service Board, pays a performance bond to the regulator (WASPA). If NARUWASCO fails to address the customers’ complaints, the regulator deducts some amount of the bond to serve as a penalty for non-compliance.

 

Training and raising awareness on integrity

Humphrey Langat, the shop steward of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers Union and a representative of the employees in the regional water sector, says that corruption cases were rampant when the water company was highly indebted but have been reduced after stringent measures were put in place.

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‘After we had the new management, the Human resource office coordinated capacity building by holding training for the employees with the aim of curbing vices and promoting transparency and integrity in the sector,’ says Langat. He added that, according to him, before the trainings, staff used to ask for cash from unsuspecting clients to enable them to fix leakages.

Korir notes that without awareness-raising on issues of integrity, graft in the water sector will continue to thrive. NARUWASCO focuses its efforts both on internal training and  external awareness-raising .

The public hearings are one way of reaching out to customers and enabling educational advocacy. There are others. For example, when NARUWASCO introduced the cashless mode of payment, staff went to most of the villages to train customers on how to use the service on their cell phones. According to a local resident, the payment of bills through a mobile payment system and through banks, rather than cash as was previously the case, has helped curb corruption cases.

“We could pay water but they could disconnect water due to ‘non-payment of bills’ by which we had even the receipts. Going to their officers was a nightmare because we could camp there for days without our issue being solved. We thank the new management because we receive water and they even have a digital meter reading machine and we pay our bills through cashless mechanisms,” says the same resident.

The continued trainings saw an increase of the customers using the new mode of cashless payment. Now 100 percent of the customers use the method to settle their water bills.

 

The effort to strengthen integrity in Nakuru’s
rural water sector must continue

NARUWASCO’s CEO notes that ‘lack of access to safe water is a worrying situation that has to be tackled. Unfortunately, water supply and sanitation isn’t always at the top of the agenda for politicians unless there is a big crisis that gives them some prominence.’

‘There is not enough money right now to fix all of these leaks. It is a serious concern. If we get enough funding, we will be able to curb leakages,’ says Lina Mitei, NARUWASCO Commercial Assistant Manager Eastern Region.

The measures that have been put in place by the new management of NARUWASCO have already helped improve transparency and accountability. But to continue promoting integrity and anti-corruption measures in the rural water sector more financing will most likely be required. It is the hope that increased revenue collection by NARUWASCO will be a first step to help improve water sector performance with integrity in Nakuru County.

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