Poor functionality of water source facilities is a norm in many rural Ugandan communities and it is a major hindrance to safe water access. The low level of functionality is largely attributed to frequent breakdowns as a result of structural and attitudinal challenges. The national policy of Community Based Maintenance (CBM) has been poorly implemented. For example, CBM requires Water and Sanitation Committees to take on tasks and responsibilities which are beyond village resources, such as supervising spare parts quality, exacting maintenance dues from community members without support from government ordinances and without financial services (such as banks) to establish confidence in their accountability. Further still, local government offices generally agree to pay for major faults, while communities pay for minor faults, with the result that communities leave minor faults unattended so that they become major faults. This leads to a “wait till it breaks” culture. Moreover, communities are reluctant to pay for repairs since there are no financial accountability structures. Local technicians who are paid for repairs under CBM benefit from frequent breakdowns and thus, full functionality of water source facilities is not in their interest.
To solve the structural and attitudinal challenges relating to functionality, Whave recruits local technicians to become franchisee businesses known as WASH Service Providers in preventive maintenance. Whave pays the technicians according to their level of success in achieving reliable water flow, thereby incentivising full functionality. This way, communities are confident that their sources will be checked and parts replaced in good time, so that breakdowns do not occur and clean water flow is constant and maintenance costs are minimised.
For successful WASH services, recipients are active participants who are proud to pay for a consistent service. Whave offers community Water and Sanitation Committees (WSCs) the opportunity to sign a Preventive Maintenance Service Agreement. The agreement acts as insurance that after paying the annual fee, Whave will cover the costs for preventive maintenance and repair through the WASH Service Provider contracts. WSCs also agree to certain obligations, for example, protection of source from theft and vandalism, and adherence to tariff payments. WSCs have been revitalised in the areas where we work and trained in accounting. Special effort is made to encourage women to take key positions in the WSCs, for example chairs and treasurers, to empower women, to represent their interests and the interests of children, and to improve financial accountability. To improve confidence by community members in accountability, and so improve willingness-to-pay subscriptions, all the WSCs are required to register as a community based organisation and open operations & maintenance bank accounts where their payments are deposited, tracked, and supervised.
Many aid “think-tanks” identify the root reason behind the persistence of the global WASH crisis as the absence of appropriate institutional frameworks or enabling environment. We believe that service delivery is a private sector role, and regulation by authorities and by civil society is essential to ensure quality and universal access. The process of building an enabling environment requires clear communication and consensus. Our focus is on building the institutional structure, working in accordance with Uganda’s national development strategy. Our systems building approach hinges on universal access to safe water combined with community pride in payment for a valued service, good regulation and public-private partnership. Our experience is that this approach is practical and feasible. Politicians and civil organizations who currently transact gifts and promises, are open to dialogue and pride in supporting transition to a stable infrastructure that provides services every day for everyone. To build a more systematic enabling environment, sub-county local government officers assist community Water and Sanitation Committees by developing standardised constitutions. Water and Sanitation Committees are required, as a condition of entering into service contracts, to formally register as legal entities known as Community Based Organizations with bank accounts.