Water for All: Delivering the Promise
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Tom Cullum
National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) has been Uganda’s source of sustainable water provision and delivery since 1972 and is now in the middle of a five-year strategy which will see the Company strive towards its goal of bringing “Water for All”.
Doing so for the benefit of “delighted customers” via a “delighted workforce”, the 100 percent Government-owned public utility is mandated to provide both water and sewerage services in urban centres and towns around the country, but beyond this initial remit, the Company has gone to great lengths to ensuring such a provision displays the kind of innovation and sustainability previously unseen in Uganda.
Now operating across 157 urban centres and catering for an approximate population of seven million people, such phenomenal growth epitomises this proactive, enriching ethos.
“Only two years ago, the Corporation operated in only 24 towns,” NWSC’s Managing Director (MD), Dr. Eng Silver Mugisha highlights. “In line with its Five-Year Strategic Direction, 2013-2018, NWSC has continued to formulate and implement innovative programmes aimed at achieving the goal of sustainable service delivery.
“The Corporation is continuously extending its service footprint to more areas across the country in line with The National Development Plan, Vision 2040 and the manifesto of the ruling NRM Government of ensuring 100 percent service coverage.”
The Corporation’s desire to increase service coverage across the country has been distilled into its Water for All programme that is being implemented across NWSC-operational areas.
Mugisha continues: “Water for All is a pragmatic, innovative and transformational programme designed by management to address the above challenges in a holistic and systematic manner, in order to improve service delivery and create efficiency gains for customers. Our focus is 100 percent service coverage by 2018.”
Complementing this is the implementation of performance improvement programmes aimed at increasing the Corporation’s customer base, especially in virgin areas; a strategy which has proved especially fruitful during the recent dramatic expansion of operations.
“Between 2014 and 2016, our customer base increased from 366,330 to 415,838 subscribers, a growth of more than 14 percent,” Mugisha says. In the past two years, the growth in the number of subscribers has shifted from an average of 22,000 to more than 30,000 connections annually.
“Plans are underway to carry out a baseline survey in all our operational areas to establish the actual water service coverage, currently estimated at 78 percent.”
At the forefront of service delivery
Such growth, and the existence of the Corporation itself, is cognisant of the growing demand for water and sewerage services, mainly emanating from the growing number of towns.
As a consequence, the need to invest back into infrastructural development is of paramount importance and, as such, NWSC has this year launched the second phase of its Infrastructure Service Delivery Plan (ISDP) with the aim of increasing water supply, reliability and access through a series of mains extensions.
Mugisha details: “Last financial year, 1,448 kilometres of water mains and 38 kilometres of sewer mains were extended in the various parts of our operational areas.
“The growth in new water mains more than tripled from the 470 kilometres laid in 2013-2014 and this is a tremendous improvement compared to previous years when the Corporation used to extend an average of 80 kilometres of water mains per annum.”
The ultimate aim of the ISDP is to subsidise customer connections by extending the pipe network closer to customers’ premises, thus reducing connection costs. Complementing this though, the Corporation has also taken bold measure to problem solve ahead of time – especially when it comes to intermittent water supply in newly operated-in towns – by implementing initial quick-win measures in the upstream to enhance both production and reliability of water supply.
“The implementation of ISDP and WSSP programmes has successfully improved water supply reliability and accessibility. Areas previously devoid of services now have piped water services, while a number of dry zones (areas with inadequate supply) have been converted into wet zones with more regular water supply regimes,” Mugisha says.
To drive such vital and timely initiatives, the Corporation naturally relies heavily on the refinement of its internal structure and, most importantly, its employees responsible for providing unparalleled levels of customer service.
“Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work,” Mugisha quotes Martin Oliver. “The Corporation lays emphasis on capacity enhancement of its staff and recognises that they are at the forefront of effective service delivery.
“Staff motivation and empowerment are key in pursuance of our vision of being the leading customer-centred water utility in the world. We therefore ensure that our staff have the right tools and means to effectively deliver services.”
To this end, during the 2014-15 financial year, NWSC management implemented a new structure aimed at realigning business processes to the skills and expertise available within the organisation, culminating in the creation of three new deputy Managing Directors as well as three new supervisors in different regions.
As per the Corporation’s project evolutions, the new impetus is driven by NWSC’s Five Year Strategic Direction, 2013-2018, and the overall goal to transform Uganda from a “peasantry to a modern and prosperous economy as enshrined in the National Development Plan (NDPII) and Vision 2040”.
Mugisha notes: “Its implementation has indeed revived our commitment to continuous improvement in service delivery to our customers. The five thematic areas of the Strategic Direction include: financial sustainability, infrastructure growth, increased coverage, learning and innovation, and customer delight and meeting stakeholder aspirations.
“A multiplicity of undertakings aligned to the above focus areas is being implemented through well thought out performance improvement programmes and annual action plans at various levels.”
These hone in on areas of investment across infrastructure and subsidies to the urban poor, as well as uplifting the profile of water and sewerage services and enhancing collaborations with stakeholders to make this a more viable and manageable mission.
Mugisha adds: “The NWSC, like most water utilities in developing countries, is faced with a number of challenges that include, among others, rapid urban population growth causing demand to outstrip supply. This results in low service coverage – especially in informal settlement and water shortages – high levels of non-revenue water, and deteriorating raw water quality.
“All these challenges are intertwined and affect NWSC’s competitiveness to serve its customers.”
Once again, this is where NWSC’s Water for All programme comes into its own as a pragmatic and forward-thinking rebuttal to such difficulties, further compounded by an overall philosophy of servant leadership.
“As an organisation, we have embraced a strong sense of servant leadership and our primary focus is on an increased number of people receiving better services,” Mugisha concludes. “We at the NWSC are confident that in the next three-five years, we will have reached our target of 100 percent service coverage in all our areas of operation.
“Our current investment in infrastructure expansion; uplifting the profile and delivery of water and sewerage services; provision of subsidised services to the urban poor; and enhanced collaboration with various stakeholders will give us tangible benefits in reliable, sustainable and efficient service delivery gains.
“These gains will be best demonstrated by increased geographical coverage, water supply reliability, efficient operations, a strong and sustainable financial position, and increased participation in catchment protection; moving considerably closer to our mantra of Water for All for Delighted Customers by a Delighted Workforce.”