By Ama Kudom-Agyemang
Ghana, The matter of the renewal or otherwise of the current Management Contract for Ghana’s Urban Water Delivery, is still in limbo, following discussions at a two-day forum in Accra. The stakeholders forum on “Urban Water Delivery,” ended on Wednesday, without any definite proposal as to whether the Management Contract for the delivery of the country’s urban water should be renewed or not. In November 2005, the government of Ghana initiated a five year “Management Contract” between the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) and South Africa’s Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL) for the delivery of urban water.
The Contract, which came into force in June 2006, expires in May 2011. The purpose of the Contract was to improve the management of the urban water sector through stablising water systems, improving water transmission and distribution, and improving billing and collection of water revenue.
The subject of the performance of the contracted firm and the delivery of urban water in general since the Contract came into force dominated the discussions at the two-day forum held on Tuesday the 12th and Wednesday the 13th of April, 2011. It was organised by the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing in collaboration with the country’s Development Partners.
When the sector Minister Alban Bagbin opened the forum on Tuesday morning, he urged participants to look at the issues raised dispassionately and recommend to government a policy option that will best serve the interest of Ghanaians. He also asked them to propose an interim arrangement that will keep the sector running after the end of the Contract, and until the next option for urban water delivery is adopted.
Mr. Bagbin explained that in making such a decision, the government will examine the impact of the Management Contract in relation to its set objectives and targets, and the performance of the urban water supply in general. It will also take into consideration the views of expert consultants and the input of all stakeholders, particularly consumers.
The Minister also expected to get input from the various presentations that were made. However, at the end of the presentations, participants were of the view that no precise proposals were made for the way forward. Rather, the presentations highlighted issues that were of common knowledge to stakeholders such as the history of the country’s urban water delivery, institutional problems including low staff morale, poor maintenance culture, and inadequate capacity.
Thematic groups’ discussions also failed to come out with the exact proposal for the way forward. At the end of the forum stakeholders prescribed several options for interim management and the next steps to take. They include an extension of the Management Contract with a withdrawal plan and an amendment of the existing contract, extension of the Management Contract for a period of between 12 to 18 months and the development of a strategy and process for reaching a final decision after the interim period ends, set up interim management team to manage the sector at the end of the contract.
Some participants were unhappy that they could not come out with a decisive position and this was bluntly stated by some participants during the formal closing session. One said, “The presentations have failed to make a bold decision as to what should be done.” Another participant stated, “People think that the GWCL is not prepared to take over. We have a plan to continue the work once the Contract ends.” Yet a third participant who spoke earlier said “we the workers of GWCL want AVRL to continue, it has changed our lives, and we are therefore preparing a memorandum to the Minister for the Contract to continue.” It was obvious that even the internal stakeholders of urban water delivery have divergent views as to what must be done.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Bagbin said the forum has revealed the need for further dialogue on what the next steps should be. He observed that stakeholders have different understanding of the Contract, lacked understanding of its provisions and there were still lots of grey areas. The Minister stressed the need for the right decision to be made that will serve the overall interest of the country.
Earlier, at the opening session, Mr. Bagbin had noted that the provision of potatble water was a critical element in government’s policy for the sustainable economic development of the country. He said “government is committed to ensuring that all Ghanaians have access to potatble water.” To that end, the Ministry had initiated various water sector reform measures over the years to improve the efficiency of water delivery and achieve financial stability for the sector.
The reforms included increased private sector participation in the management of the urban water sector, establishment of water oversight and regulatory bodies namely Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) in 1997 under Act 538 and the Water Resources Commission (WRC) in 1996 under Act 522, and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in 1998 under Act 564 to purposely handle rural water. Others were the conversion of the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation into a company namely Ghana Water Company Limited and the establishment of the Water Directorate in 2004 to strengthened the Ministry to coordinate and monitor sector activities, review performance an formulate policies.
Mr. Bagbin explained that the decision to initiate a Management Contract for Urban Water Delivery was reached, following a period of review of several options for efficient management and delivery of urban water. Touching on where the country has reached now in terms of urban water delivery, he stated, “Five years following the coming into force of the Management Contract, one can say with all certainty that we have made some gains, even though a lot still remains to be done.”
Mr. Bagbin said “urban water supply coverage today is much improved as a result of on-going water projects throughout the country.” He noted that there has been significant improvement in the water supply systems of major towns that were severely water stressed. The towns include Koforidua, Tamale, Kumasi, and Kasoa and other major communities. The Minister said there are also on-going projects including the Kpong Water Expansion, Upper East Water Supply, and Volta Water Supply designed to improve urban water supply across the country.
He however pointed out that several challenges have tended to minimise the impact of the gains made in the water sector. Mr. Bagbin mentioned some of the challenges as dwindling water per capita due to population growth and erratic rainfall pattern, high non-revenue water, rapid urbanisation, obsolete equipment, pollution of water bodies and sources, high levels of wastage in the sector, political interferences and long years of corporate carelessness manifested in poor sector governance because of under-qualified, under paid, unmotivated and mostly inefficient staff.