Collaboration Required Between National and County Governments
The task of ensuring access to water services is huge. The challenge of access to sanitation is even more difficult. A paradigm shift is therefore required to ensure adequate effort towards this challenge. It should not be “water for all” any more but “all for water”.
In harnessing this effort, it is good to look back and ensure that past gains are built on. Gains already in place include formalization, professionalization and socially acceptable commercialization of water services.
Formalization means that services are provided by licensed utilities. This is important for accountability and sustainability. Professionalization and commercialization imply that at the local level there is a clear separation between politics and service provision. This implies that utilities have to operate on business principles.
Under devolved systems, county governments are responsible for ensuring that water services are delivered in an efficient and effective manner. The Bill of Rights gives all citizens the right to safe water and basic sanitation and thereby obliges the state and county governments, as duty bearers, to take necessary measures for the progressive realization of the right and show these to the public.
Close collaboration between the two levels of government guided by national policy and legislation will be key to improving service delivery. This collaboration will be necessary in a number of areas specified below.
In a context of rapid population growth and urbanization, there will be a requirement for more significant investments to be undertaken. This in turn requires utilities which are commercially viable and which operate according to good corporate governance principles. This means they have to be accountable to the national Regulator and to the public. By their sheer efficiency, such utilities are able to attract finances for investments not only from the public but also the private sector. Cross-county assets of national interest (such as for bulk water supply) shall be managed and held at a supra-county level in order to ensure that general public interest is preserved.
Water Resources Management
More effort will be required in water resources management and development. The planning and financing will have to be done at regional and national levels through a basin management approach, following natural boundaries, so as to ensure a need-based allocation of water. For that reason, and in the same vein as cross-county assets, bulk water services will need to be operated at a supra-county level.
It is necessary to have professionals with integrity both at Board and management levels in our institutions. County Assemblies must be able to interrogate the annual performance of utilities as devolution matures. This will ensure that well governed utilities are put in place.
Ring-fencing of Revenues
Considering that there is a huge investment gap, the guaranteed source for service improvement is the tariff. Revenues from water sale should be ring-fenced and used exclusively for reinvestment. This is essential for the sustainability of the sector.
Efforts to improve water services within utilities should be focused on two aspects: efficiency and sustainability. For water services to be delivered in an efficient and effective manner and in order to gradually extend access to all, it is imperative that utilities become commercially viable. Economies of scale can only be enjoyed where utilities reach a certain size. Utilities which are too small to be viable therefore need to be aggregated into larger units.
Serving the Poor
The development of the Kenyan water and sanitation sector depends to a large extent on the utilities orientation towards demand, seen in terms of service improvement to the poor. Utilities are required to demonstrate stronger orientation towards the underserved and LIAs if universal access is to be guaranteed.