Why Senate wants water works agencies disbanded

Water Cabinet Secretary Zacharia Njeru in Nairobi on October 2, 2023, during the launch of the nationwide cashless revenue collection policy. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

The Senate wants the national government to disband Water Works Development Agencies across the country to save taxpayers billions of shillings.

The Senate County Public Accounts and Special Funds Committee wondered whether the nine agencies across the country were conduits for diverting public funds bearing in mind the water sector was a devolved function.

The senators asked the Water Cabinet Secretary Zacharia Njeru to justify the increase in domestic, public and livestock water use charges from 50 cents to Sh5 per cubic metre of abstracted water and evidence of parliamentary approval and gazettment of supporting regulations

Mr Njeru said the Water Works Development Agencies are tasked to undertake the development, maintenance and management of the national public water works within their areas of jurisdiction.

“According to the Water Resources Authority Strategic Plan 2018, it requires an annual budget of Sh5 billion, comprising of Sh2 billion recurrent and Sh3 billion for development, to undertake its mandate effectively. With the increased tariffs in regulations the authority will manage to collect between Sh1.2 billion and Sh2.3 billion annually which is still below the requirements,” Njeru said.

"The Nine Water Works Development Agencies across the country provide technical services and capacity building to county governments and water service providers within their areas as requested and provide the Cabinet Secretary technical support in the discharge of his functions,” he added.

The CS told the committee chaired by Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi that the agencies operate the water works and provide water services until the waterworks are handed over to a county government, joint committee, authority of county governments or water services provider.

Njeru explained that the water works agencies provide reserve capacity for purposes of providing water services where pursuant to section 103 of the Water Act, the regulatory board orders the transfer of water services functions from a defaulting water service provider to another licensee.

The Water Works agencies include Coast Water which covers Mombasa, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River Counties; Athi Water which covers Nairobi, Kiambu and Murang’a Counties; Northern Water covering Garissa,Wajir, Mandera,Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu and Laikipia Counties.

Lake Victoria South Water covers Kisii, Nyamira, Kericho, Bomet, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya Counties; Lake Victoria North Water covering Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and Nandi Counties; Central Rift Water covering Nakuru, Narok, Baringo, Laikipia and Nyandarua Counties.

North Rift Water covers Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu Counties while Tanathi Water covers Kitui, Makueni, Machakos and Kajiado counties.

County Public Investments and Special Funds chairperson who is also the Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi in Nairobi in June 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The CS emphasized that all the nine agencies have a crucial role in water supply across the country.

“This committee would like to know the circumstances that may lead to a regional water works development agency working in the jurisdiction of another since we do not understand why this is happening and whether there are some political considerations involved,” said Osotsi.

Njeru told the committee that for donor-financed major water works implementation framework is governed by the project appraisal document which is prepared in line with the rules of the specific development partner and approved by the board of the relevant development partner.

He explained that when a development partner is financing a programme, they prefer clustering of the projects for ease of coordination, which requires that each clustering be centrally implemented by a specific agency.

Njeru said the African Development Bank supporting Kenya Towns Water and Sanitation programme requested for clustering with Athi cluster comprising of projects within Athi Water, Tanathi Water and Coast Water works areas while the Tana cluster areas comprised projects within Tana and Northern Water Works areas and Rift Valley cluster comprising of projects within Central Rift Valley, Lake Victoria South and Lake Victoria North Water Works areas.

“The National Treasury signs a financing agreement with development partners and in turn, National Treasury also signs a subsidiary agreement with regional development agencies, the agencies sign implementation framework agreements with the lead agency being the employer and other agencies being project managers,” he said.

Osotsi raised concern that despite the framework being developed it had not been handed down to water service providers in the counties and eight out of the nine water works agencies have not demonstrated the involvement of counties and wondered how they are expected to pay back loans for assets which are not in their names.

He said that none of the water works agencies had shown the committee clear handover agreements to the counties and water service providers which were supposed to indicate clear loan repayment plans terming it as one of the reasons for loan arrears running into billions of shillings.

Narok Senator Ledama Kina said that the water agencies had accumulated debts running into billions of shillings wondering where the money that was supposed to repay them was going to since the projects had been completed and were already generating income.

“I would like to inform Njeru who is two weeks old in the ministry that the water sector is in a total mess, he should consider either scrapping or overhauling the water works agencies since we do not understand why there are loans debts running into billions of shillings with no clear repayment plans,” said Ledama.

 The Senators challenged Njeru to explain how the Ministry of Water ensures value for money in the projects undertaken by the regional water works development agencies since there were concerns that taxpayers’ money may not have been prudently spent in most instances.

Njeru told the committee that the ministry was undertaking economic and financial analysis on all projects and programmes to determine their viability, procuring through open competitive bidding in all projects besides ensuring that all contracts implemented have contract implementation teams appointed in compliance with the law.

“The Ministry of Water ensures that there is continuous monitoring and evaluation during project implementation to ensure compliance with contract requirements and specifications and to ensure that the project objectives are met, with complex works independent panel of experts are engaged,” he said.