Plans are on course to set up a Low Income Consumer Support Unit (LICSU) at the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), to exclusively deal with unserved areas in the country. The LICSU is expected to ensure that newly developed and unserved urban settlements are piped and connected to the pipelines of GWCL.
With the setting up of the office, the frustrations and bottlenecks associated with connection to GWCL's pipelines, as well as access to potable water and the water company's consumer base would be removed.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic on Wednesday at the National Level Learning Alliance Platform (NLLAP) meeting of stakeholders to firm up plans to establish the LICSU, the acting Deputy Managing Director of GWCL, Mr Senyo Amengor, said the new unit, which was expected to be in place by the end of 2014, was targeted at people of low income who were not adequately served.
Touching on the importance of the new unit to GWCL's operations and to the country, he said because settlements were unplanned, “there is difficulty in getting access – bringing the service to them is difficult for us. But when we set up this unit, then they will be specially focusing on those areas. You need to have direct contact with the people. The people must help them take water to them.”
He said the project would also enable GWCL meet the specific needs of the urban poor and deal with such issues as land ownership with respect to the provision of water.
“People go to buy water from third party suppliers and they charge them any rate. If we are able to get access to these low income groups and they have access to the supply, they will pay the approved Public Utility Regulatory Commission (PURC) rates which cater for lifeline consumptions,” he added.
The challenges of serving an ever-increasing population
In a separate interview, a supporting consultant to the project, Dr Richard Francis, Consumer Council of Water, England, said during some visits in previous years, he found that GWCL had the challenges of massive population growth, trying to catch up with the bulk water and always having to fall behind on that because the cost was so high, and at the same time, being under pressure by donors to become commercially viable.
He said although it was difficult for GWCL to reach everyone, especially the low-income consumer, “they [GWCL] only exist because they have a duty to serve all urban consumers – It is their societal mandate of responsibility.”
Dr Francis said another difficulty faced by GWCL was that although they were beginning to meet their commercial viability, “Sadly one of their challenges is that they are not being allowed to raise the tariffs to reflect their costs.”
Dr Francis, however, in a statement delivered at the workshop, urged the GWCL to ensure they had more pipe connections to consumers, as it was the only way it could sustain its operations.
“I realise that at some level, we the foreigners have been at fault. We pushed you more and more towards commercialisation, which you had to do, in order to become viable and survive. But in so doing you may have had to ignore a segment of the population for a while.
“The best way we can serve the urban poor in many ways is to get connections out to the people, because then they can access the lifeline block tariffs. You can then overcome one of the challenges of compound housing,” he said.
Earlier at the workshop organised under the aegis of the monthly-held National Level Learning Alliance Platform (NLLAP) facilitated by Resources Centre Network (RCN), the Customer Care and Pro-Poor Coordinator of GWCL, Mrs Faustina Boakye, said the support unit would give a voice to the lower-income group.
Benefits and goal of LICSU
“They can also make a case with Ghana Water Company on the Joint Monitoring Platform (JMP) figures on coverage,” she stated, hinting that a similar unit would be created for electricity connections.
“We will provide services to those in low income areas. We are going to provide a platform to coordinate with other agencies and groups,” she added, in response to questions from some participants.
During his presentation, the project consultant, Nii Okai Kotei, said the goal of the LICSU, was to ensure increased and full coverage of water services in low income areas, with a resulting tariff that was both affordable to consumers and commercially viable for the utility service provider.
He listed major constraints to piping as the difficulty in laying pipes, due to highly dense living conditions with usually narrow and unplanned lanes, and the lack of authorised site plans from the Town and Country Planning Department by many compound houses.
While admitting that the current utility tariff regime was not pro-poor but served the needs of the elite and middle class, Nii Kotei said irregular, insecure and sporadic income levels made it difficult for households to pay monthly fees or secure enough for a connection.
To deal with the constraints, he recommended the focusing of attention on dealing with the weakness in the GWCL's corporate strategy and move it to a pro-poor one.
Source: Graphic Online