How a community project that morphed to a water company has turned to a battle ground

Police line outside Matitu Water Company Offices after unknown people broke in and vandalised files. [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

Over 40,000 of residents in three Central Kenya counties have been left with dry taps after the Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) revoked a license of a water company serving them.

The firm, Mutitu Water and Sanitation company supplies water to the counties of Nyeri, Laikipia and Nyandarua.

Sources say the water company has been hit by a leadership row after a faction, backed by the community ejected the company's management over claims that the firm had been registered as a private company.

In a gazette notice dated August 17, 2023, Wasreb’s Acting Chief Executive Officer Julius Itunga revoked the company’s license and reverted the water supply services to the three affected counties.

"Henceforth, provision of water services in the affected area of services shall revert to and will be undertaken by Nyeri, Laikipia and Nyandarua county governments in line with the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution and section 77 of the Water Act 2016 in consultation with the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri," the gazette notice read in part.

Matitu water company was started as a church project and later converted to a community project before it transformed into a water services company.

The decision by Wasreb follows a series of events at the company that involved demonstrations, raiding and burning of documents by unknown people.

Last year, members of the public held a public baraza at Nairutia shopping center and passed a resolution to revert the water firm to a community water project.

The community meeting followed a stakeholders’ consultation on October 18, 2022 that brought together Wasreb, water departments in the three counties involved and the security team that ascertained claims by the public that the company had been registered as a private company.

 Kieni East Sub County Deputy County Commissioner Agnes Kaloki speaks after wrangles broke out at the Matitu Water Company. [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

In a five-page document from Wasreb addressed to the governors from the three counties, the Deputy County Commissioners of areas served by the firm, Nyeri Catholic and Tana Water Works Development Agency, a caretaker committee was to be formed to streamline the registration of the company.

The task of the caretaker committee was to ensure that the articles of association are amended to conform with the Water Act 2016 and standards outlined in the corporate governance for the water sector.

“The committee shall cause the advertisement for the post of directors for the company in line with Wasreb and the committee will hold community awareness meetings on the standards for water service provision,” a letter signed by Joseph Keter, the acting chief executive officer of Wasreb read in part.

But in a drastic turn of events, the consumers met and resolved to disown the water and sanitation company claiming since it transformed into a company, there has not been steady supply of water.

The meeting was convened by Kieni East Sub-County Social Development Officer (SSDO) Damariel Gitonga who reiterated that despite the transformation of the community water project into a sanitation company, the self-help group did not dissolve in line with the Community Group Registration Act.

Gitonga maintained that the intention of the meeting was either to dissolve the self-help group or to revive its activities.

“From the records, the water community project was transformed into a water and sanitation company illegally and that is why I called a meeting with consumers to get the things straight,” he said, noting that he had invited the management of the firm but turned down the invite.

He reiterated that although it was not his business to interfere with the running of water firms, his department; State Department of Social protection where registration of self-help fell, stipulated the procedure of de-registration.

It was after the resolutions that the members of the public ejected the management of the water firm.

“We have lowered the punitive connection fees of Sh60,000 to Sh20,000 with immediate effect and the standing fee from Sh250 to Sh200. This is our project and we shall not allow people to take advantage of our parents’ efforts,” said Kagiri.

However, Muturi sought court’s intervention to have him reinstated back as the company’s CEO and on August 10, 2023, he went to the company and claimed to have been assaulted by unknown people.

“They attacked me and damaged my car, I have the court orders allowing me to gain access to the water firm because we are a country governed by rule of law,” he said.

But the police maintained that they were not aware of the court orders saying they have not been supplied with.

“I am only hearing that there are court orders but we have not seen any of them and we would be glad if they are presented us, what we know is that community ejected the management of the company and there exist a legal battle between two warring parties,” Kieni East Deputy County Commissioner said.

She warned members of the public from destroying the firm’s property referring to two week's incident where unknown people stormed the company and burnt documents and computers.

Following the decision by the Wasreb, locals now want the factions to ceasefire so as to prevent disruption of the crucial services to the three counties.