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Standing up for clean water

Liz Favour

Faced with this critical lack of water, community members decided to take action. They formed the Apondo C Women’s Group and developed a proposal for drilling a borehole and erecting water points to deliver supplies to community members.

In 2013, the group secured Kshs 10 million (US$96,000) from the African Development Bank and Kenya’s Government. It obtained all the necessary documentation and the work was completed.

But before the new facilities were handed to the group, the landowner where the borehole is located challenged Apondo C’s paper work despite a prior easement agreement allowing Apondo C to construct the borehole. The water resources authority withheld the permit needed for Apondo C to operate the borehole, allowing the landowner to allegedly claim ownership and start selling the water.

Suspecting corruption, community members protested to the water authorities for four years, but in vain.

Meanwhile, the price of water for an average local family’s daily needs rose to Kshs 210, more than the average daily income of Kshs 200 for a family of farm workers.

Illegal charges for water

It’s an all too familiar scenario across Kenya. Many citizens’ lives are disrupted and their health threatened by illegal charging for water supplies to which they’re entitled at a cheaper rate. People are often forced to walk miles for water or to drink from unsafe sources, facing daily loss of time and risking life-threatening diseases.

According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB)- Africa, which surveyed more than 47,000 people in 35 African nations about their day-to-day experiences of corruption, 23 per cent of citizens who used public services had paid bribes to utilities officials in the last year. In Kenya, the bribery rate for utilities is even higher , with more than one in every three people 35 per cent of usershaving paid a bribe for utilities in the previous 12 months.

Demanding action against corruption

So, when Apondo C’s officials contacted Transparency International Kenya (TI Kenya) in 2017, staff recognised the problem as part of a familiar pattern with corruption at its heart.

TI Kenya’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) wrote to the sub-county commissioner and the water resources authority’s sub-regional manager demanding explanations for the delay in issuing the water permit to Apondo C.

ALAC staff and Apondo C representatives then met with these officials — an approach that forced the water resources authority to launch an investigation into the case. Authority staff then visited the project.

Water resources authority response

In March 2018, the authority finally issued a permit for Apondo C Women’s Group to operate the water point instead of the landowner. The sub-county commissioner and the water resources authority sub-regional manager were both transferred from their posts.

But despite having the permit, Apondo C has not yet been able to take control of the water system. It is still operated by unknown individuals who charge high prices for water and claim that they are just doing a job and are not in charge. No one in Apondo C knows who is ultimately controlling and profiting from the community’s new water supply.

The ALAC has tried several times to meet with water officials, but its letters have received no substantive replies. Somewhere, corruption is preventing Apondo C from taking over its rightful water source. In response, TI Kenya is now talking to lawyers and plans to support the community in taking the case to court in the public interest.

Fighting for community rights

The situation shows how deeply corruption can run and how hard it can be for Kenyans to win redress.

To raise awareness of people’s legal rights, the ALAC has held community meetings explaining how they can take further action against the seizure of their water supply. Determined to gain justice, people have become actively involved in decision-making on the court case, and TI Kenya is optimistic about the outcome.

The GCB shows that 54 percent of Kenyans think ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. Persistence will be crucial to Apondo C’s success, but with widespread local support and TI Kenya’s backing, the prospect of justice for the community’s water activists is real.

This article was written as part of the Global Corruption Barometer — Africa 2019, the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Africa.

Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) provide free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. With more than 100 offices in over 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effective way for people to report corruption and demand action. Learn more at www.transparency.org/reportcorruption.

GCB

For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org