The era of eyes on, hands off are gone! Responsibility for rural water and sanitation shifts from local government to new national agency.
On Thursday 10th May 2018, President John Joseph Pombe Magufuli announced the government’s decision to streamline the management of rural water supply and sanitation services in Tanzania directly to the Ministry of Water. He said:
‘All experts responsible for water, from local government authorities will now be linked directly to the Ministry of Water. What used to be eyes on, hands off will now be eyes on, hands on. This will ensure water engineers who make blunders in their work, to be fired directly by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water. They are the ones who know the size of the pipe, water velocity, and the type of pumps they put in place. If we leave them to be supervised by local councillors, they become too free and irresponsible’.
Today, fifteen months since President Magufuli’s directives, things seem to be on track. Earlier this year, the parliament endorsed the new Water Supply and Sanitation Act No.5 of 2019. The Act has provided for the establishment of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASA) with effect from July 01, 2019. The main mandate of RUWASA is to sustainably plan, design, construct and manage water supply and sanitation services in rural parts of Tanzania mainland. Prior to that, these responsibilities were entrusted to Local Government Authorities (LGAs) who were accountable directly to the ministry responsible for local government. The role of the Ministry of Water was limited to policy formulation, standards setting, resource mobilisation and provision of technical support to LGAs on a needs basis.
Last week, I was in Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital and spent some time at Ihumwa (the government city), where I was privileged to meet Eng. Clement Kivegalo, a newly appointed Director General of the RUWASA. I also held a series of meetings with RUWASA management to discuss various issues in the sector. I must confess, I was impressed to find that most of the senior officials of RUWASA are young energetic and dynamic individuals who seem to be ready for the daunting task ahead. Besides, I learnt that, 25 regional managers and 130 district managers are already lined up on the ground to transform the rural water supply and sanitation subsector and push for the much-needed results.
With the meetings concluded and, on my way, back to Dar es Salaam, I spent some time reflecting on the opportunities and challenges that RUWASA must address as it seeks to improve service delivery in rural areas.
Last year, Tanzania cemented its lower middle-income status by raising its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to $1,090. The Country’s vision is to achieve upper middle-income status by 2025. As the economy grows, the rising standards of living and education are leading to an inexorable rise in expectations from rural water users, wanting more than the very basic levels of service provided so far, apart from the approximately 20 million people in rural areas who are yet to have access to improved water sources. To meet these expectations, RUWASA’s approach to service delivery would need to shift away from the current de-facto focus on the provision of hardware for first-time access, towards a comprehensive approach to service delivery aiming at sustaining and improving existing and future services, alongside providing basic services to the unserved population. To do that effectively, RUWASA will need to have the capacity to adopt new tools and processes and innovate in the way it plans, finances, delivers and monitors service provision.
The Tanzanian population has tripled from 12.3 million in 1967 to 44.9 million in 2012, and by 2019 the total population has grown to almost 55 million, with about 30% of this population living in urban areas. By 2050, the population is predicted to reach 138 million people with 50 percent living in urban areas. As many of rural villages transform to urban centres, simple technologies such as handpumps that used to be effective are increasingly not able to serve the increased population and meet their water demands. To meet the demands of service levels in many villages, the alternative would be to put in place large scale piped schemes, which are often costly and complex to manage. The challenge for RUWASA in most of these settings will be to put in place a financing and management arrangement beyond the community management approach currently being promoted in rural areas, to ensure reliability and sustainability of services. Building collaboration and working partnerships between RUWASA, the private sector and regional and district town water utilities will be critical to success in these settings.
It is too early to predict success or failure of RUWASA, but I am optimistic that RUWASA has the potential to fix most of the challenges highlighted above. There is a view that, since RUWASA is an autonomous body established by the new water act, it is much more protected from local politics which have in the past undermined revenue collection and sustainability of rural water services. There is also a view that accountability in rural water service delivery will improve since the responsibilities and mandate for service delivery now lie entirely within the Ministry of Water. However, while this is a good starting point, I am of the view that we need to go beyond that if RUWASA is to succeed. Here are few suggestions;
Most important of all will be the ability of RUWASA leadership to manage the change process and reorient staff’s mindset into new ways of doing things to achieve the much-needed results. That won’t be easy but it’s something worth pursuing from on the start.
Disclaimer: Lukas Kwezi currently works for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as Water and Sanitation Adviser, based in Dar es Salaam. He writes blog posts in his spare time. Though he may talk about the work he does in the sector, this is neither a corporate nor a political blog and the opinions and ideas expressed here are solely his own, not those of his employers.