Counties’ claim on water firms is outdated and bad for public

A boy quenches thirst with fast flowing water from a tap at Xaverian Primary in Kisumu on May 07,2018 after lunch. [File, Standard]

It was never unusual to encounter dry taps in most of the urban centres in the country.

Corruption fed off the legendary incompetence and inefficiencies associated with the defunct municipal and city councils’ water and sewerage departments.

Piped water (oftentimes unclean) got only to those who could grease the palm of a council employee. Something had to change sooner or later.

With rising demand for water – precipitated mostly by rapid urbanization, poor collection and storage methods, broken infrastructure, weak billing and revenue collection mechanisms - solutions had to be found to resolve the perennial water problem that made life quite unpleasant for many Kenyans.

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The Water Act of 2002 paved way for profound reforms in the way water resources were managed, the most drastic of which was a shift away from the impervious municipal and county councils that supplied water to residents.

This led to the creation of autonomous water and sanitation companies that would take over the role previously handled by the local authorities.  These companies operate privately, but as not-for-profit entities. The results were instantaneous.

Kenya became a case study of improved efficiency in the water sector on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to water and basic sanitation. All that could be reversed if county governments have their way.

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The management wrangles at Murang’a Water and Sanitation Company and the controversial decisions by Kajiado and Kiambu counties to cluster the water service providers are indications of a worrying trend.

Although not without its challenges, the improved services in water and sanitation sector are a testament to the success that commercialising the crucial sector can yield. This success is attributed to the fact that the water companies operated in their own space, away from the crippling bureaucracy of government.

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But perhaps keen to boost their revenue collections and to reward political cronies with seats on the water boards, county governments across the country want to take the water companies into their control. That should be resisted by all means.

It is rife with numerous pitfalls which can be avoided. First, the move risks undoing years of hard work and thereby sacrificing service delivery at the altar of political patronage.

Secondly, it also risks creating bad blood between counties because in cases like that of Uasin Gishu and Nairobi counties, the water is sourced from neighbouring counties.

At stake also is the whole architecture that has created improved management of water resources and operational efficiency. Any move that jeopardises years of hard work and results should be resisted.

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