16 May 2003

Kenya: Change Water Act to Encourage Investors, Urges World Bank

Nairobi — The Water Act may have to be changed to accommodate the participation of private investors in supplying the key necessity.

A study commissioned by the World Bank and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) faults the piece of legislation, saying it was developed with restructuring, rather than private sector participation in mind.

Plans by the government, encouraged by the lender community, to privatise the provision of water and sanitation services in major towns have sparked major controversy.

The issue was expected to be a major flashpoint at yesterday's conference as the delegates retreated into sector-specific so-called break-out sessions which were closed to the media.

These were meant to come up with the optimal strategy for the involvement of private business in building and running Kenyan roads, rail, water and sanitation, ports and airports, telecommunications and energy.

Plans by the government to cede provision of water services to profiteers has been met by loud resistance from an organised lobby fronted by non-governmental organisations and other civic agencies.

They argue that water is a basic human right whose provision should not be tied to the vagaries of price, demand and supply and cite several countries where similar initiatives failed to improve access. They favour greater efficiency among existing suppliers.

Even then, it would appear that the government has already made up its mind and is continuing with the privatisation programme.

In Nairobi, a Water Service Board has been established, while studies done in Nairobi, Mombasa and the Coast have recommended a lease as the appropriate option for involving private business.

A similar study has been commissioned for the third city of Kisumu, while in Malindi a private investor is already in business, the beneficiary of a management contract with that town's local authority.

According to the report by the advisory body and the World Bank, access to safe water is only 65 per cent in urban and 35 per cent in rural areas. Almost a third of the population lacks decent sanitation services.

It is estimated that an investment of $1.4 billion (Sh93.8 billion)-which denotes about 40 per cent of the country's total budget-would be needed for immediate rehabilitation and medium-term expansion of piped water supply and sanitation systems in the country.

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