The National Water & Sewerage Corporation will continue to operate in a resilient manner to ensure that customers continue to get services, despite the challenges posed by measures instituted by the government to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
KAMPALA – Uganda announced the first lockdown in March, as the country moved to halt any mass spread of the Coronavirus, that started in China last year and was fast ravaging Europe and America.
Among the measures announced, President Museveni prohibited the government’s water utility company, NWSC from disconnecting nonpaying customers, with the reasoning that among the behavioural change requirements for the population, was enough and clean water to maintain cleanliness and wash hands regularly to help in stemming the spread. The corporation has since struggled with collections much needed to meet the cost of producing and distributing water, leave alone the cost of extending services to those that are not yet served, due to economic hardships faced by segments of her clients.
While this predicament impairs the capacity of NWSC to marshal the most critical inputs that include chemicals that have to be imported, electricity, repair materials, fuel and lubricants, security, staff costs, office support, and ICT, Managing Director Dr. Silver Mugisha is confident that the Corporation is well prepared to sail through the crisis.
“We have a business continuity plan that we are following, modulated by continuous adjustments as a result of measures, which are periodically announced by His Excellency the President and the Ministry of Health,” he told PML Daily.
Dr. Mugisha thanks the NWSC customers that have kept the faith during the hard times, clearing their water bills, which has enabled the corporation to continue meeting the costs of essential operational inputs.
“We have seen some, of course, who want to take advantage of the COVID-19 situation to evade payments despite having the capacity to pay. This is not good and does not build our country,” the NWSC chief says, encouraging all that can pay to take responsibility and clear their obligations which will help the corporation to serve the wider public better.
Recently, a section of Members of Parliament asked the government to waive water and electricity bills for six months following the lockdown.
The legislators, led by Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga and seconded by six others — Maurice Kibalya of Bugabula South, Gerald Karuhanga of Ntungamo Municipality and John Baptist Nambeshe of Manjia County among others, argued that the lockdown which came into force in March has left Ugandans incapacitated economically and are unable to foot utility bills due to loss of employment by many, failure to run their businesses and also the movement restrictions that have put things to a standstill.
To this, Dr. Mugisha says:
“If the underlying objective of the call is to make it possible for Ugandans to cope with challenges paused by COVID-19 pandemic, there is no problem with the objective”.
However, the NWSC Managing Director argues that the matter needs to be given a holistic thought in a manner that creates a sustainable solution. He says that for example, the law that establishes the Corporation as a body corporate enjoins it to operate in a financially and commercially viable manner.
“That means that a call like that requires a third party to meet the cost of water bills generated by NWSC,’” he says.
At the end of the day, NWSC needs financial resources to meet the cost of producing and distributing water, leave alone the cost of extending services to those that are not yet served, by meeting the costs of the most critical inputs including chemicals that have to be imported, electricity, repair materials, fuel and lubricants, security, staff costs, office support, and ICT, all needed whether it is COVID-19 or not.
“These are also needed whether NWSC is a Government-owned institution or not. Therefore, in situations like this, I would opine that let us be more innovative and seek subsidies for the most vulnerable groups while encouraging those that are able to pay their water bills to do so,” Dr. Mugisha says, thanking the government, including Cabinet, Parliament, the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Ministry of Finance, donors and the National Taskforce on COVID-19 for supporting the Corporation to see how its business continuity plan continues to be adequately supported.
Despite the obvious challenges, the NWSC MD says the corporation will not cut off staff and hope to collectively operate in the “new normal” by working collectively to explore other areas of cost containment while preserving jobs.
“We value human capital as an important factor of production. We have reached where we are because of our committed staff. Therefore, we cannot think of reducing staff as the first call of action due to COVID-19 pandemic,” he says.
“We all have to embrace the new normal. We have to review our expenditure behavior and prioritize areas that support the real economy as envisioned by H.E the President. Specifically, at NWSC, we are restructuring our expenditure structure to put particular emphasis on water and sewerage infrastructure development,” he said, adding that in so doing, the Corporation will maintain the momentum to extend water to those who are not yet served and build sufficient capacity to work with financial markets to extend infrastructure to new industrial parks.
The NWSC has recently been a subject of a smear campaign, emanating from forces that are interested in big procurements by the corporation, but Dr. Mugisha says it is a challenge that every CEO in the same capacity like his faces.
“At a certain point, someone wanted me to intervene and force a bidder who was Ushs 80Bn/= above the bid price of the best-evaluated bidder. I explained that accounting officers have no power to administer illegalities, he said, adding:
“That incidence caused me enormous stress, involving a raft of corruption allegations to the IGG and donors. Investigations were carried out and there was no evidence of wrongdoing”.
Dr. Mugisha says that in this case, “it was a strong conscience that helped us”.
“But like I said, what keeps us strong is our belief in doing things right and rejecting capture by ill-intentioned elements,” he says.