Nairobi Water staff threaten service interruptions over controversial bill

Kenya Union of Water and Sewerage members protest outside City Hall, Nairobi, opposing a bill seeking to transfer management of Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company to the County Government. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

City residents could soon experience water problems if a bill seeking to transfer management of Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company under the County Government is passed.

The company's staff have since rejected the bill and have issued a petition to the County Assembly.

They argue that if the bill is not dropped, they will down their tools, interrupting services to the residents.

The Kenya Union of Water and Sewerage employees argues that if they are managed by the County, all city residents will experience interruptions in water and sewerage services.

They want to be left to operate independently, as is currently the case.

The union members number around 3,000, mostly drawn from Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company.

The bill, dubbed the 'Nairobi City County Water and Sewerage Services Bill', has been forwarded to the Assembly's Water Committee.

It has several proposals that seek to overhaul the water sector.

For instance, the bill seeks to establish the Nairobi City County Water and Sewerage Services Corporation to replace the current Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company Limited.

It also proposes that the Governor establish a Board of the Corporation to be appointed by the executive.

However, the union has handed over a petition to the Assembly highlighting flaws in the proposals.

The Union argues that the bill violates the Water Act and that it wants to bring back the water sector under the county's jurisdiction, as it used to be.

"The Water Act 2016 is very clear that a person shall not be licensed as a water service provider unless they make an application under the Regulatory Board and submit a copy of the application to the County within whose area of jurisdiction they intend to supply water services," they said.

The petition adds, "In establishing a water service provider, a county government shall comply with the standards of commercial viability set out by the regulatory board."

James Mumo, an official of the union, explained that since Nairobi Water became independent, some services have become reliable due to streamlined resource management.

"The bill proposes Public-Private Partnerships, which is very risky because our staff are being told to reapply afresh, and many people could lose their jobs," he explained.

The worker's union says the bill contains many undisclosed elements, and they were not involved in any planning before it was handed over to the Assembly.

For this reason, they have issued a seven-day ultimatum for the Bill to be dropped before they down their tools and interrupt water supply and sewerage services to the residents.

"We call upon the County Assembly and the Governor to drop the bill in its entirety, as it bears a lot of negative consequences," Mumo stated.

"The fate of the staff is uncertain; the conflict of interests is inevitable since the proposed privatization would affect the employees," he added.

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