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Keep the tap flowing: Strengthen transparency, accountability and participation mechanisms to improve access to water

Equitable water access in Kenya continues to be compromised by lack of integrity and ineffective regulation of water utilities and informal service providers despite key water sector reforms initiated in 2002. The lower income groups bear the greatest burden under the prevailing circumstances. These are among the key findings highlighted by the National Water Supply Integrity Study (NWIS) launched by Transparency International-Kenya today. The report provides an overview of the Kenyan water supply sector in terms of integrity and performance and is based on literature review, discussions with water sector actors and case studies. It targets water sector specialists and key stakeholders involved in policy-making, regulation, water service development and provision in Kenya. The study was undertaken through the Transparency and Integrity in Service Delivery in Africa (TISDA) project between February 2009 and June 2011.

Study Methodology

Six case studies in urban and rural areas inform this report. The urban areas were Kangemi (Nairobi), Migosi (Kisumu), and Old Town (Mombasa) while the rural and small town locations were Kamukunji (Eldoret), Mutego and Kanyoni (Nanyuki). The research methodology is based on a risk map concept which involved an analysis of the performance of the system vis-à-vis integrity and examined the relationships between public officials, regulators, service providers and users in the selected areas.

KEY FINDINGS

Water reforms and regulations: Existing legislation such as the Water Act 2002 initiated an important reform process that has considerably developed the water sector but more remains to be done. Key outstanding aspects of the Water Act that are yet to be concluded include transfer of assets from the municipalities to the Water Boards. The Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB) lacks sufficient independence and resources to play its crucial role as an independent monitor. An even bigger challenge exists in the form of many users (on average 56% in urban areas) relying on informal water providers including water kiosks, local boreholes, well owners and water vendors. These crucial services are neither regulated nor controlled further alienating lower income segments in the water supply chain.

Inequity: The Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of July 2010 state that clean water and sanitation are a human right however 41% of Kenyans lack access to reliable water supply. Unaffordable charges further push the commodity out of reach for the common citizens.

Transparency, accountability and participation: On a positive note, more resources are becoming available for the improvement and expansion of water systems. However, there is limited access to information on cost and technological improvements to enhance efficiency in sector investments. In the formal water supply systems, transparency has increased as the Water Act 2002 clarifies the relationship between different actors although, in some cases, more openness on contracts and decision-making is still required. Recent reported cases of corruption in some water sector institutions have highlighted the need for greater focus on good governance which must be strengthened at all levels, if the full benefits of sector reforms are to be achieved.

Participation, largely determined by access to information by third parties with the option for redress where there are complaints, is relatively limited. Involvement of the civil society in various processes in the sector is improving but is still quite restricted.

RECOMMENDATIONS

TI-Kenya recommends the following priority actions to water sector actors and key stakeholders involved in policy making, regulation and water service development and provision.

  • Water Service Providers should adopt an improved pro-poor approach in service provision to overcome the high level of inequity in water services which compromises water access, affordability and quality.
  • There is need for elaborate regulation and improved capacity to cover the informal sector to curb, for instance, unlicensed/illegal water vending and consumer exploitation.
  • Communication to stakeholders and public consultation as well as access to information particularly for the users should be enhanced. Information on user rights and obligations should be broadly disseminated, for instance, through Water Action Groups which have already been established in some major towns.
  • Benchmarking and greater transparency is needed in the development of new water supply services. Publishing quality data on the cost of different projects and systems is a feasible first step.
  • Corporate governance in Water Service Providers should be strengthened and their interaction with Water Service Boards and the Water Service Regulatory Board (WASREB) improved. Oversight in the sector needs strengthening while procurement processes, anti-corruption legislation and sanctions should be strictly adhered to.

NEXT STEPS

TI-Kenya has initiated evidence-based advocacy with other actors in the water sector to improve integrity and sector performance. The initial response of different actors has been very positive as seen through collaboration pacts between water providers and users, following TI-Kenya’s intervention. TI-Kenya has facilitated the signing of two service delivery improvement pacts between Old Town Mombasa residents and the Mombasa Water and Sewerage Company (MOWASCO), and Nanyuki residents and the Nanyuki Water and Sewerage Company (NAWASCO).

“We have also facilitated various capacity-building sessions for water institutions and intend to work closely with the Water Sector Reforms Office to implement the above recommendations,” said TI-Kenya Board Chair, Dr Richard Leakey during the launch of the report.

Key actors in the sector must consider collaborative governance involving a diversity of private, public and non-government stakeholders acting together towards commonly agreed goals, and aiming to achieve collective rather than individual goals in attaining water access for all Kenyans. “Improving governance in water services is not just about government systems and capacities; it is about a range of non-state agents and their interaction with the government. It is about engaging civil society and establishing a functioning social contract between the government and its citizens to bring about effective basic services. And it is ultimately about the progressive achievement of agreed rights to water,” said Dr Leakey.


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Sheila Masinde
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