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Management of non-revenue water and good governance in Kenya

By Roland Werchota and Patrick Onyango


Good governance/Corruption has continued to be a big challenge in the whole world according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index Report of 2010. Kenya was rated at position 35 among the 47 Sub-Saharan countries and at position 154 globally out of 176 countries. Kenya is rated 2.1 (scale of 1-10, where 10 is the least corrupt) beating only countries like Somali, Sudan, Chad, Burundi, Angola, Guinea and Democratic Republic of the Congo marginally. Corruption affects all sectors in Kenya though differently. 

The water sector in Kenya has not been spared by this menace.

It is estimated that 20-40% of finances in the Water Sector are being lost through corruption and dishonest practices (World Bank report, Stalgren 2006). The forms of corruption which are rampant in the water sector of Kenya are misappropriation of resources and funds, doctoring of bills and customers data, extortion of money from consumers, illegal connections, preferential treatment, theft and misuse of property and equipments, financing ghost projects, political manipulations, favoritism, nepotism, none transparent procurement of goods and services (poor quality but high costs) and bribery for illegal services(Good governance in the Kenyan water sector, BMZ, 2012).

The water sector reforms which were initiated in 2003 have brought considerable gains for the sector. The reform achievements would have been much higher if corruption and governance challenges affecting the sector were dealt with effectively. However, corruption and bad governance among some key water sector players has continued to impede the total achievement of the reform objectives. The water sector adopted the human rights approach already by the year 2006 and put policies and strategies in place aimed at gradual realization of this. However, corruption and bad governance has continued
to be a stumbling block for the sector to reach the next level of performance.

One critical area in water service provision which is affected adversely by corruption and bad governance is the management of Non Revenue water (NRW).The national level of NRW water in Kenya has been above 45% since 2006 without any significant improvement while other areas have shown improvements over the years as shown in table 1. The sustainability and economic viability of the utilities with high NRW levels are therefore at stake. Some utilities are also likely to face legal suits for violating human rights (limiting availability and access) according to the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. The high level of NRW is remaining despite the huge investments brought to the sector by the reforms. 

In addition, there are many local and international documented best practices on reduction of NRW to the levels below 20% from which the Kenyan water sector can learn. Some of the donor agencies involved in supporting the Kenya water sector have some of the best practices in the world for managing NRW. Among this are JICA (NRW in Japan averages at 6%) and GIZ (NRW in Germany averages at 7%). In addition there are very good best practices in Africa to learn from in countries like Burkina Faso (NRW averages at 16%), Morocco (NRW averages at 20%) and Tunisia (NRW averages at 16%).

Some Utilities in Kenya like Nyeri Water and Sewerage Company has been able to reduce the NRW to about 26%. Some of the worst performing utilities are however having NRW ranging from 60-80%. The high national NRW level in these utilities cannot therefore be attributed to the often stated reasons of lack of knowledge or none availability of required investment for improving infrastructure (the reforms have attracted a lot of investment in the sector over the last 10 years). NRW management in Kenya will only improve significantly if the challenges of corruption and bad governance in the affected utilities are dealt with since availing of the knowledge and resources has brought no significant impacts on NRW.

Some of the corruption and governance issues contributing to bad NRW management are described below.

Bad Governance and Corruption issues at the level of asset management and oversight of utilities Poor asset Management

Water Service Boards (WSBs) have not been allocating enough funds and resources for asset development and improvement in order to facilitate the utilities to improve their performance as stipulated in the Service Provision Agreements. In many utilities funds and resources are mostly allocated for none essential or none appropriate things such as:

• Furnishing offices luxuriously for Board of Directors (BOD) and senior management staff
• Purchasing expensive 4-wheel drive cars
• Paying sitting and travelling allowances for BOD
• Paying huge house allowances for senior management staff
• Paying airfares and travelling cost (national and international) for BOD and senior management
• Paying operation costs for the cars which are often used for private needs
• Purchasing expensive mobile phones and I pads for senior management staff
• Financing expensive workshops with no value addition but which are attached to personal gains

These expenditures are incurred at the expense of the service provision thus denying a lot of people access to adequate water and sanitation. Experience shows that water losses above 20% are mainly commercial losses where corruption is the main cause. Many areas of the WSBs ration water supply to the consumers due high level NRW caused by poor asset management.

Poor Quality Construction

Many construction works do not meet the quality standards due to malpractices occurring during the tendering and selection of contractors. Wrong contractors are often selected so long as they are able to give kickbacks and bribes. They perform their work with impunity and often produce very low quality works. The works are however approved and paid for, even with higher costs, due to the financial gains derived from bribes and kickbacks. The poor quality construction works which increase NRW include:

• Poorly constructed household connections
• Poorly constructed water tanks which leak
• Poorly build concrete structure at water treatment works
• Low quality valves and armatures which leak
• Poorly laid pipes which do not follow pipeline construction procedures
• Random excavation of pipe trenches without following technical designs
• Random expansion of pipeline network without following technical procedures
• None anchoring of pipe bends and Tee-joints causing movement and leaks
• Covering pipes without conducting pressure tests for leakages in the joints

Occasionally funds are used on ghost projects (projects on paper only) which are not implemented at all. Such money is lost at the expense of improving infrastructure. The infrastructure remains therefore in a dilapidated state thus contributing to technical losses.

Purchasing of poor quality water meters

Poor quality water meters cause a lot of error in billing which result in water losses. Poor quality meters are procured knowingly at inflated prices. This is a major corruption area which affects the management of NRW significantly. 100% metering is one of the best practices in the management of NRW. It is only achieved if the installed meters are of good quality and well calibrated to give the right readings. Poor quality meters do not give the right readings and fail to work totally after short time intervals. Many suppliers of these meters are middle men  with good connections. They acquire these meters from the black market (stolen reconditioned meters often packed in sacks) or from companies which manufacture counterfeit goods. The costs charged are however for high quality water meters.

Bad Governance and Corruption issues at the Utility (Water Service Provider)

level Poor maintenance of infrastructure Many utilities do not allocate enough funds and resources for operation and maintenance. Leakages and pipe burst are not repaired in time leading to high NRW. If done, the quality of work is often poor (workmanship and materials used). A lot of funds and resources are allocated to none priority areas as was outlined above. Inflated expenditures are incurred at the expense of the service provision thus denying a lot of people access to adequate water and sanitation. Many utilities ration water supply to consumers due high level NRW caused by poor operation and maintenance. They can hardly supply water for more than 10 hours in a day. The personnel lack most of the basic tools and equipments for performing their work.

The most poorly maintained structures which contribute to high NRW are air valves, sluice valves, washouts, pumps, pipeline network, water tanks, water meters, etc. Nevertheless, most of the losses are linked to inadequate commercial management which allows corruption to take place on a large scale.

Illegal Connections

Illegal connections are a major source of NRW. Most of these connections are done by the utility staff against payment of bribes by those benefitting from these connections. Some are done to favour some politically well connected people. Illegal connections are also done by criminals or cartels often claiming community interest, who exploit on poor metering systems which do not allow detection of such connections easily.

Data Manipulation

Data manipulation is done either by meter readers or billing staff against payment of bribes to induce favour to some customers. The data are manipulated in order to make customers disappear from the billing system or to favour such customers to reduce or waive off their bills at the expense of the utility. The concerned staffs are bribed for offering such favours. Purchasing of low quality meters which fail to work promote this malpractice by giving leeway for estimated meter readings.

None disconnection for bribes
Customers are supposed to be disconnected as soon as their bills are not paid for more than 2 months unless special arrangements are agreed on. However, some customers continue to enjoy the water services for years without payment. This creates huge debts. This is often achieved by bribing the concerned utility staff to avoid disconnection. Many utilities have debts in millions of shillings. Some of these debts are never paid forcing the utilities to write them off.

Misappropriation of funds and resources

There are many cases where funds and resources are stolen from the utilities by staff members thus crippling essential areas like operation and maintenance. This is often done through bank frauds and stealing of equipment and materials from stores. Receipts are sometimes stolen and used to obtain money fraudulently from unsuspecting customers. Vehicles also are diverted for private use leaving maintenance personnel with no means to react to emergency repairs such as pipe bursts.

Way forward

The following measures are proposed to enhance the management of NRW:

• BOD needs direction to reduce NRW and oversee enforcement. If NRW is a high performance indicator for management then the BOD need to replace the management if NRW remains high for many years
• Update customer database and physically identify illegal connections
• Ensure presence on the ground to detect illegal connections as early as possible or avoid them from the beginning
• Move to 100% metering and ensure their functionality
• Install sufficient bulk meters and ensure their regular reading
• Enforce control system to avoid corruption
• Encourage customers to report corruption cases and treat such information with an ombudsman.

About the authors

Mr. Roland Werchota is a civil engineer and an economist. He is the Manager of the MEWNR/GIZ Water Reform Programme , a Kenyan – German development cooperation in the water sector covering sector policy , service delivery and water consumers in the sub sectors of Water and Sanitation Supply (WSS) and Water Resources Management (WRM).

Mr. Patrick Onyango is a Senior Advisor Water and
Sanitation,MEWNR/GIZ Water Reform Programme – Kenya.





Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2