Water utilities are crucial for guaranteeing the human right to safe water and sanitation. The session “Government, pay your water bills!” on August 25th at the Week on Water for Development (WW4D) shed light on the issue of governmental non-payment of water and sewage bills. This issue can heavily starve utilities of much-needed resources to operate efficiently and become economically viable. Also it is of great importance as most utility managers, government representatives, and development partners are aware of the matter, but rarely discuss it openly. This session brought together utility managers, development partners and civil society organizations to openly discuss, in four different breakout groups, the topics of governmental non-payment, its impact, and the strategies to overcome it..
Research presented by Sara Ramos, member of Solutions for Water Integrity and Management (SWIM), demonstrated that 95% of the utilities investigated across 18 countries – mostly from the global south – reported cases of governmental non-payment. The reasons identified were diverse, ranging from political interference to the belief that government entities and public service providers should not have to pay for water and sanitation services.
Civil society campaign in Zambia
In Zambia, for example, services to government institutions comprised 50% of the utility’s anticipated operational revenue in the financial year of 2019/20; however, the bills were not paid. Bubala Muyovwe, from the NGO WASH Forum in Zambia, explained the diverse reasons for these developments, ranging from weakness in cooperate governance to failure to prepare financial statements. Furthermore, Muyovwe highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial stability of water utilities stating that revenues have declined even further while expenses have risen due to, for instance, the purchase of additional chemicals. Although the government has developed strategies to overcome governmental non-payment such as, the installation of prepaid water meters, the problem prevails. Muyovwe stated that the next steps of a civil society campaign in Zambia will be to raise awareness of the issue through the media, collaborate with various utilities, and to exert pressure on the Ministry of Finance.
Getting the government to pay its bills in Romania
In her opening statement, Sara Ramos highlighted that the issue of governmental non-payment is solvable and there are diverse approaches to tackle it in the long run. In his breakout session Teodor Popa from the Romanian Water Company (Brasov), presented a successful example outlining how Romania was able to solve the problem 10-20 years ago. In Romania, the root of the problem was, among others, the lack of regulations and the problem of legal enforcement of non-payment. Consequently, certain measures were identified and implemented to address non-payment. The most important of these measures discussed were (i) the establishment and legal strengthening of regulators who can enforce the payment of unpaid accounts, (ii) the simplification of the legal process to sue for arrears, and (iii) the establishment of accountability provisions for government institutions in which they need to show that the funds have been used to settle arrears. Furthermore, through structural change, water utilities gained more independence from political interference.
What regulators can do: experiences from Rwanda
In this breakout session, Jacques Nzitonda, Director of Water and Sanitation from Rwanda,highlighted different ways that regulators can provide incentives for government institutions to pay their bills. Advocating for government institutions to allocate annual line budgets, as well as, the inclusion of indicators on government debt in utility reporting, were identified as the most influential measures to transform the issue of non-payment. Additionally, he noted that utilities should be encouraged and authorized to disconnect government institutions in case of non-payment. In the case of Rwanda, it was possible to address the issue through the increase of queries by the auditor general if a government institution has arrears. Overall, the aforementioned methods to address non-payment also played an important role in the utilities ability to take on commercial financing loans.
Supporting civil society space and voice through international advocacy
The role of civil society was comprehensively discussed in this breakout session. Al-Hassan Adam from End Water Poverty explained how a civil society-led campaign can exert pressure on government institutions to pay their water bills. The key aspects of such campaign would be to put local partners upfront and assure its flexibility.. Al-Hassan further emphasized that civil society is not homogeneous and that its diverse organisations operate differently in the light of national politics.
The key insights of this session were that the problem is very real and the question should be how we address it. People are right-holders and governments are duty-bearers; it is, therefore, the government’s responsibility for human rights to water and sanitation, and non-payment undermines it. If the government does not pay, it is the individual who will have to compensate for the costs through higher tariffs or poorer service. However, examples from Romania or Rwanda showed that governmental non-payment is a solvable problem, but only if there is the willingness and the long-term vision to make this behavioral and cultural change.
For more information on the issue of governmental non-payment, we invite you to read our policy brief click here.
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Online event. August 25th at 3pm CEST.
This session shines a spotlight on an issue most development partners, government representatives, and utility managers are aware of, but seldom discuss openly: across the globe, too many public institutions don’t pay their water and sewerage bills, thereby starving utilities of resources they need to provide adequate service and ensure realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Find out more and register at https://www.everydrop-counts.org/
The event is organised by GIZ – Water Policy, Water Integrity Network (WIN), End Water Poverty, Eastern and Southern Africa Water
Regulators Association (ESAWAS), Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), NGO WASH Forum.
Download the programme :
Access to safe water and sanitation are human rights. To serve everyone and realise these rights, water and sanitation service providers must be able to operate and stay financially viable.
However, there is evidence to show that many public institutions do not pay the water bills they receive, or with crippling delays. This is a problem for service providers who count on this revenue.
When governments don’t pay, people do. The burden shifts to those who face increased tariffs and those who are left with poor or no service, who pay with their health, time, and productivity.
There are many ways to address the issue. Utilities must improve systems to ensure collection of payments. Governments must ensure payments to utilities are given due priority and urgent attention. This is essential, to ensure resilience in crises, avoid costly bailouts, and safeguard the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
To bring attention to this issue and share best practices to improve collection processes and prioritise timely payments, WIN and End Water Poverty are launching an advocacy campaign with the support of GIZ, ESAWAS, AMCOW, Water Citizens Network, KEWASNET, and the Zambia NGO WASH Forum.
Join us at #GovernmentPayYourWaterBills
Download policy brief, based on latest research:
Sign up here to receive campaign updates
Access to safe water and sanitation are human rights. Water and sanitation service providers must be able to operate and stay financially viable to serve everyone. But this ability is often at risk due to non-payment – including by government institutions.
Water that is treated and delivered has a cost, also water meant for public office buildings, security and policing facilities, and other public institutions such as public hospitals and schools. Except when they are exempt from payment by law, these public institutions should receive water bills and are expected to pay them. However, there is evidence to show that many do not, or that they pay with crippling delays.
These arrears contribute significantly to the financial and operational challenges faced by utilities. Non-payment thus has direct impact on the ability of utilities to provide adequate service and hampers the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Someone always pays. When governments don’t pay, people do. The burden shifts to those who face increased tariffs and those who are left with poor or no service, who pay with their health, time, and productivity. The impact on affordability of service is severe. The long-term social, economic and environmental costs are dramatic.
There are many ways to address the issue. Based on new research by WIN and End Water Poverty, this policy brief outlines best practices for service providers, regulators, public finance actors and water sector stakeholders.
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COVID-19 is a major threat to the livelihood of rural communities living off agriculture and livestock herding in Nakuru and Makueni counties. Key economic institutions have been shut down in response to the pandemic, including markets. This has negative consequences on household income and social interactions in rural communities and is leading to underemployment in informal labour markets.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene issues (WASH) are coming to the fore. Governments are urging people to wash their hands with soap and water as an essential means to stop the spread of infections. This has led to high demand for communal handwashing facilities in low-income areas and for the distribution of soap with handwashing tanks.
To address these issues, curb the spread of the virus, and cushion Kenyans from the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, the Government of Kenya is disbursing COVID-19 relief funds to county governments, with support from non-governmental actors.
There is no room for corruption or manipulation in these unique circumstances. Relief funds cannot be wasted. County governments must follow national procurement rules and regulations in using these funds. They must use the money transparently and with integrity. We cannot afford to take this lightly. We must hold service providers, civic and county leaders accountable.
The Centre for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD), with the Water Integrity Network (WIN) and the Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Societies Network (KEWASNET), are launching a citizen’s campaign, to sensitise the public on their rights and duties to ensure the effective and transparent use of COVID-19 relief funds during the pandemic. We are focusing on ensuring meaningful public participation, as well as monitoring and evaluation of funds and procurement activities.
The campaign highlights ways to hold county governments and water service providers accountable:
The pandemic can only be stopped in its tracks with integrity. County and national governments must put in place sustainable measures to limit the impact of the pandemic. People must follow guidelines to wear masks correctly, wash hands, practice social distancing, get tested and self-isolating when feeling ill. For it all to work, active participation, accountability mechanisms, and anti-corruption procedures are essential. They can ensure that funds disbursed to help fight the virus are used well and benefit those who need them most.
Follow news on the campaign on Twitter: @cespadkenya
For more information, contact the WIN Programme Officer for this initiative:
Nagnouma Kone, nkone[at]win-s.org
The post Ensuring COVID-19 relief funds are used with integrity in Nakuru and Makueni counties appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.