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Fresh twist in controversy surrounding water firm after consumers disown company

A resident of Nairutia, Kieni East in Nyeri County protest outside Mutitu Water Sanitation Company offices in the county in November 2022. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

A resident of Kieni East in Nyeri protest outside Mutitu Water Sanitation Company offices in the county. Water consumers passed a resolution to revert the firm to a community water project. [Kibata Kihu,Standard]

The controversy surrounding the leadership wrangles of Mutitu Water and Sanitation Company (Muwasco) has taken a new twist after water consumers passed a resolution to revert the firm to a community water project.

The 28-year old firm that supplies water to over 40000 consumers distributed in three counties, Nyeri, Laikipia and Nyandarua counties has been hit by squabbles after it emerged that it was registered as a private company as opposed to a public company.

Following a complaint lodged by a few water consumers, the representatives of the three counties, national government security teams and Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) held a meeting on October 18 last year where they ascertained the allegations by members of the public.

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 shall be to ensure that the articles of association are amended to conform to 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 over 1500 water consumers met yesterday at Nairutia town 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 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.

Locals claimed that they had not been involved by the management before transforming the self-help group into a water and sanitation community.

We were not consulted before our project was turned into a water and sanitation company, let alone being registered as a private entity, before the transformation, we did not have water supply challenges and that is why we want it back," Kibuka Gichuki, a founding member said.

The Nyeri Catholic Archdiocese was represented at the meeting by the retired Mugunda Catholic Parish Priest Father Romano Fillipi who founded the self-help group and the Archdiocese Lawyer Father David Mutahi who pledged to support the efforts to revert back the firm into a community project.

After the six-hour meeting, new officials were elected to steer the water operations led by Joseph Kagiri as their charperson.

"We have lowered the connection fees of Sh60000 to Sh20000 with immediate effect and the standing fee from Sh250 to Sh200. We shall spearhead a fresh free and fair recruitment drive for the employees of the water firm," said Kagiri.

However, Peter Muturi, the Chief Executive Officer for the water firm, dismissed the meeting saying the resolutions of the event was an exercise in futility.

"The caretaker committee spearheaded the streamlining of the company to conform into law and a gazette notice of our license was published. It will be presented to us by Wasreb early next month," said Muturi.

While acknowledging that he had been invited at the meeting by the social department officer, Muturi said the officer had no rights to summon a legally constituted company and dismissed claims that consumers had not been involved in the transformation process.

"We transformed into a company in 2009 and inherited liabilities of the community project of a tune of Sh5 million from then, we have increased coverage from 100 square meter to 332 square meters serving a population of 40000 from 120 so I don't understand which infrastructure they claim ownership of."

As the push and pull continues, locals and learning institutions and hospitals have been forced to look for alternatives to get water since last year, because the two factions have been sabotaging the other claiming to be the legally mandated to engage in day to day learning of the water firm.

The offices situated at Nairutia remain closed after a section of locals stormed the offices and ordered the staff out of the premises.

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