Nairobi — Today, almost every Kenyan is yearning for improved water services. There is not enough water for domestic use, for industry and for commercial activities.
Inadequate water services have been a major hindrance to industry and commerce, improved health and hygiene.
Access is low, both in rural and urban areas, with the poor, especially in urban areas, facing the greatest hardships. The price of water has been sometimes as high as Sh20 for a 20-litre jerrican for low-income households, compared to Sh4 for the same quantity in medium- to high-income areas.
This has arisen mainly due to many years of neglect, low efficiency and productivity by the current operators and managers of water services, lack of financing for new investments, institutional weaknesses that have not provided for a clear definition of roles, as well as lack of accountability and transparency.
The sector has not been responsive to customer needs and has done little to improve efficiency of service delivery. Corruption has been widespread, leading to declining revenues and no plough-back mechanisms to maintain existing infrastructure, expand services and service debt.
The focus of the Ministry of Water Resources Management and Development now is to tackle the problems and reverse the decline by restructuring the sector with institutional reforms as the entry point.
The changes currently under implementation are aimed at separating policy, regulation and water services provision functions.
These reforms are expected to lay a firm foundation for efficiency, accountability, transparency and sustenance of existing and new water schemes, and to ensure affordable, reliable and sustainable services to Kenyans.
Further, the changes are expected to reduce conflict of interest and lack of accountability and transparency that characterised the old set-up provided for under the old Water Act cap 372.
For instance, under the old institutional arrangements, the functions of policy, regulation, and water services provision were lumped under the Ministry of Water. Similarly, under the old legislation, local authorities have been providing water services under delegated powers from the Minister in charge of water affairs.
Conflict of interest has also been witnessed in this case as water services have been operated as part of a wider range of local authorities activities and businesses. The result has been that water services have become a "cash cow" to finance other activities with no plough-back into maintenance and expansion.
Water services have been subjected to wanton corruption. Services to water consumers have been simply neglected. The lack of autonomy of management and operation of water services has allowed a lot of political interference and hampered professional management.
The institutional changes within the water sector are being facilitated through the new Water Act 2002 which commenced operating in March this year.
Where necessary, the new Act provides for transitional arrangements to ensure smooth implementation and transfer of roles. The institutions expected to bring in new life in the sector and hope for Kenyans are:
Water Resources Management Authority: To spearhead restoration of degraded water catchments and depleted ground aquifers. Kenya is regarded as a water scarcity country having only 647m3 per capita against the internationally accepted level of 1000m3 per capita.
Water Services Regulatory Board: To license, regulate and supervise water services boards ,thereby ensuring access and expansion; quality, standards and affordability of water services.
Water Trust Fund: To be a financing instrument for expansion of water services particularly to the poor.
Water Services Boards: These institutions are expected to hold the licence and legal responsibility for water services provision in their areas of jurisdiction. The licence will be acquired from the Regulatory Board upon submission of satisfactory business and strategic plans.
As required by the new law, the water services boards will not, by themselves, be permitted to engage in direct service provision to consumers, but to perform this role through competitively contracted providers.
These providers can be private companies, NGOs, consumer organisations, or autonomous companies owned by local authorities but exclusively engaged in water services. The Minister for Water has already established the Nairobi Water Services Board as a priority to immediately embark on addressing the acute water problem in Nairobi.
Water Appeals Boards: To act as arbitrator of disputes that may arise from time to time between the regulator, the water services boards, services providers and consumers.
The ministry's role will revert to water sector policy formulation and direction.
The ongoing public debate on institutional reforms in the water sector should be carried out based on facts, information and public interest as the guiding principles, for Kenyans want improved water services sooner rather than later.
Engineer Stower is a senior deputy director of water development in the Ministry of Water Resources Management and Development Comments\Views about this article