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Governor Iria, Munga water wars spill to Equity Bank

By Nzau Musau | Published Sat, January 13th 2018 at 11:43, Updated January 13th 2018 at 11:48 GMT +3
Murang'a governor Mwangi wa Iria addressing the residents in Murang'a town where he convened a public participation forum to deliberate on water tariffs he termed exploitative. [Photo: Boniface Gikandi]

War between Murang’a county government and Equity Bank Chairman Peter Munga has gone a notch higher with customers of a local water company instructed to change pay points.

Murang’a Water and Sanitation Company (Muwasco) notified its 20,000 customers to cease paying their water bills through Equity Bank.

 The move was taken after bank officials reportedly declined to change accounts signatories as the protracted cold war between Governor Mwangi wa Iria and Mr Munga intensified following a shake up in water companies.

Chairman of county water committee Benson Githinji authorised change of paying points from Equity Bank to Family Bank as part of streamlining the sector.

Reshuffled leadership

 In the past three weeks, county government reshuffled leadership in the five water companies that has since run into headwinds of resistance, legal challenges and turf wars to the agony of residents.

Since the controversy kicked off, businessman Munga has declined to speak to the media.

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When the county government unveiled a nine-man caretaker committee on October 19 last year to streamline the companies operations, little resistance was anticipated.

Between that time and New Year, a plethora of challenges erupted including filing of a court case, destruction of pipes and disconnection of electricity at a treatment plant following a bill of Sh300,000 on December 22, 2017.

The appointment of the Githinji-led committee with a mandate mirroring those of existing boards of managements was immediately challenged in court by some chairmen of the existing boards.

Although the court gave the care-taker committee the nod to proceed with the mandate pending hearing of the matter in April, that did not stabilise matters for water management in Murang’a.

Cause of the dispute between Munga and Iria has been traced to claims that he bankrolled campaigns of his former Equatorial Nuts Chief Executive Officer Dr Moses Mwangi who contested against Iria. Interestingly, Iria before contesting the governorship in 2013 had resigned from a company owned by Equity Bank boss.

 On December 19, there was a mini-reshuffle in the management of the companies where the former Murang’a South Water Company CEO Eng Mary Nyaga moved to take over leadership of Murang’a Water and Sanitation, taking over from Eng Daniel Ng’ang’a who proceeded on forced leave. The following day, members of the caretaker committee were introduced to employees of the companies with clear orders that they must cooperate fully with the committee.

Two days later, the disconnection of electricity at Kiawambeu treatment plant over a Sh300,000 bill triggered a shortage of the essential community on Christmas eve.

For fear of public protest, the county government moved in fast and paid the bill.

Early this week, County Water and Irrigation Executive Paul Macharia made an impromptu visit at Fort Aqua water bottling plant, a subsidiary of Muwasco, to a shocking discovery.

He found that employees had been discontinued of service and under unexplained circumstances. They were later recalled and their contracts renewed.

“There are a few issues brewed by a few people who are against the changes we have brought. They will be dealt with to ensure water will be provided at the friendliest of terms,” Macharia said.

Immediately after his re-election, Governor Iria pledged to spend a billion shillings to improve water services, a feat that could not be achieved without a shake-up of existing boards.

Last week, a team was deployed to study how friendly water tariffs can be realised without compromising safety standards.

Iria had pledged to lower tariffs to Sh200 for domestic use, down from exorbitant prices imposed on consumers before.

The team has revealed that at Muwasco, they are investigating possibilities of secret bank accounts after they found only Sh30,000 at the company accounts.

Last year, the county sunk 18 boreholes in different parts of the county to bolster water distribution. It plans to increase water connections up to 70 per cent from the current 31 per cent.

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