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Unpaid bills: ‘No free water’

Mr Robert Gakubia, chief executive officer, Water Services Regulatory Board. The board protects interests and rights of water consumers. It also protects other stakeholders’ interests.

The government says water companies will not disconnect consumers with unpaid bills. As a result water companies are reporting falling revenues. The companies think some customers refuse to pay because of what the government said. Water Services Regulatory Board says Kenyans must support water companies by paying their bills. These companies must buy chemicals, pay salaries, electricity and other expenses.

The board has appealed to consumers to support water companies by paying their bills. Chief Executive Officer Robert Gakubia said water companies would continue working if customers paid their water.

“Water companies are having challenges,” Mr Gakubia said. “We can overcome if we support the companies to continue running.”

Where is free water?

He said that water and sanitation were at the frontline in fighting Covid19. Mr Gakubia said customers who refuse to pay their water bills were hurting water companies’ work in fighting the virus.

“Instead of saying give us free water,” he said. “They should be saying, let us see how we can arrange payment. No water company will disconnect a customer in a such a time we are in.”

Mr Gakubia said that as people store food, they should store water too, by paying their water bills. “The first stock up should be water by paying your water bills,” he said. “Because for water to be available water companies must buy chemicals, pay salaries and electricity.”

Who will cancel unpaid bills?

Mr Nahason Muguna, managing director, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, said revenues were going down. “That means that we will not be able to operate optimally,” he said. Mr Muguna said that although companies are not disconnecting customers should see it as a delayed credit.  They must pay the bills later, he said.

“After the crisis [Covid-19] they will have to pay,” Mr Muguna told Water Tower. “Unless those customers are thinking that the whole humankind will be wiped out.”

Mr Joseph Mberia, chief executive officer, Meru County Urban Water and Sanitation Services Corporation, said water company budget is based on revenues collected. From income collected the company gets money to by chemicals, pay salaries and other expenses.

“If we cannot collect money and we cannot get subsidies, it will be hard financially for water service providers,” he told Water Tower. “If there are no subsidies where do we get money for chemicals and salaries?”

Persuading customers to pay

Ruiru-Juja Water and Sewerage Company says that its weekly revenue collection has been falling. It dropped from normal Sh9 million a week to Sh3 million then Sh2 million last week. “We have sent out water bills” Managing Director Simon Mwangi said. “We will follow up with reminder messages to the customers on Friday.”

He said that while industrial customers were paying, domestic customers were not paying. This might affect the company’s operations, Mr Mwangi told Water Tower.

Nyahururu Water and Sanitation Company has stopped disconnecting customers with bill arrears until the virus is contained. The company said the country’s economy was negatively affected by Covid-19. Because of that many people may be unable to pay their bills.

Water companies must pay their bills, too

Managing Director Peter Mwangi said if customers do not pay the company’s service would be in danger.

“The ability of the company to remain afloat is pegged on its ability to pay workers’ salaries, suppliers and other statutory obligations,” he said. “Without funds to pay salaries and suppliers of water treatment chemicals, pipes and fittings, the company cannot continue offering water and sanitation services as required.”

Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company has waived water bills for 30 days for Witemere, a low income and densely populated area in Nyeri town. Managing Director Peter Gichaaga said waiving the bills will increase handwashing among residents. This will protect residents against the virus.

Mr Mberia said he was concerned about what will happen after the Covid-19 pandemic. “Will consumers pay for the accumulated water bills?” he said.

Where are county governments?

Mr Gakubia appealed to county governments to give water companies financial help. The same way the national government moving money to critical areas of the economy, he said.

“You cannot allow your companies to collapse,” Mr Gakubia said. “County governments should reallocate some resources to the companies to supply water.” Water services companies are owned by county governments in areas they work in.

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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  1. George Gicheru

    Hopefully Covid19 will come to pass.
    We in the water sector must review our risk management.
    I remember times when Eldoret municipal council was financially supported by Eldowas.
    The company also made substantial capital investments.
    We were able to plan for investment in fixed deposits and Treasury bills on excess money after salaries, water chemicals and fittings.
    We could actually cover these expenses for close to even 5 months.
    It’s very serious that water companies are in financial problems in the first month.
    The companies must prepare adequately for such events such as drought, court orders and current Covid19.
    The water companies should actually be the ones forwarding their support to the County to fight Covid19.
    We cannot operate on ✋ to mouth if for sure we have competent persons running our companies!

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