RUWASA: New hopes in challenging times?

The era of eyes on, hands off are gone!

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.

High expectations as Tanzania graduates to middle-income status

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 rapid population growth and urbanisation will increasingly lead into a thin line between rural and urban service delivery

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 areasBy 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.

Woman using a rural water pump
Starting on the right foot

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;

  • Get better at building infrastructure: I must admit that engineering is important! However, there are still far too many poorly-constructed water points being installed in the country. To fix this once and for all, RUWASA needs to put in place a robust internal process of procurement, design reviews and approval and construction supervision, with a greater emphasis on accountability.
  • Develop a cadre of qualified project managers: The reality is that, we have many water engineers but very few have project management skills. This is because, over the past twelve years of Water Sector Development Programme, we have invested very little in making our engineers good project managers.  I believe that efforts to improve construction of water infrastructure should go in tandem with implementation of an ambitious plan to develop a cadre of qualified water engineers who are also qualified project managers.
  • Shift focus from money to results: Build on the existing DFID and World Bank supported results-based financing programmes to institute a culture and focus on results within RUWASA, by signing performance agreements with regional and district managers. Institute procedures to ensure performance metrics and deliverables are tracked regularly and better performance is recognised and rewarded.
  • Invest in data systems and realign incentives towards the use of data: Ensure any investment in data and information systems for rural water supply is cost-effective and leads to improving the data quality being reported. Alongside this, ensure the data is used as basis for planning, budgeting and operational decision making and is linked to performance management of staffs at all levels. It is important that investment in data systems gradually move along with the intention to move away from the ‘access paradigm’ towards a broader set of indicators focused on measuring the actual levels and quality of service delivery rather than just whether water infrastructure is in place and functioning.
  • Ensure predictability of funding: In the past, it took an average of four months for funds to reach LGAs. Going forward it is important that funds allocated to support rural water supply and sanitation projects are released timely and fully in accordance with the budget, including those allocated through the National Water Fund (NWF). Timely release of funds should help RUWASA reduce construction time from an average of 3 years to 6 months as it should for most of the rural water supply projects.
  • Prioritise operation and maintenance together with new construction: This would involve setting water user fees that incorporate cost recovery. It also includes setting aside some funds from the NWF to enable district managers to provide technical support to local service providers and where feasible cover the costs of major rehabilitation as per agreed criteria. At operational level, district managers should be incentivised to prioritise and put in place appropriate systems to support all types of communities.
  • Harness the power of innovation and technology: make use of innovation and technology to solve the alarming water crisis in Tanzania. Some of the immediate opportunities include, deploying solar pumping systems to reduce the carbon footprint and lower operation and maintenance costs associated with diesel powered systems over the long run. There are also opportunities to utilise smart water systems to promote cashless pre-payment to improve revenue collection in communal water supply systems in Tanzania.
  • Engage and get the most out of the private sector: Promote private sector participation in service provision for example in management of water services, improving revenue collection or assuming certain responsibilities in operation and maintenance. Alongside this, explore opportunities for crowd funding and getting expertise from the private sector for the sector.

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.