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Malindi water company introduces pre-paid water services

For many years, the Malindi Water and Sewerage Company (MAWASCO) has been grappling with water loss arising from illegal connections, leakages and water meter theft.

It is estimated that the company has been losing up to 25 per cent of its water, causing it to suffer massive losses and plunge into heavy debts.  Thousands of litres of water went unaccounted for due to leakages and illegal connections, while its customers have had to frequently replace stolen water meters.

Malindi Water and Sewerage Company (MAWASCO) Managing Director Gerald Mwambire (right) explains a point to French Ambassador to Kenya Aline Kuster-Menager (second left) and Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi (second right) during the launch of a self-reading water meter project in Watamu, Kilifi County. Photo by Emmanuel Masha

But with the introduction of modern technology, the company is upbeat that it will start making profits as all water will soon be accounted for, illegal connections stopped and the stealing of water meters curtailed.

The new system, if fully operational, will also enable the company to get money for its services in advance as customers will pay for the water before consuming it, thus solving the problem of having to physically read meters, bill customers and disconnect water services for unpaying customers.

The company has already installed 600 automated water meters in Watamu township in a pilot project made possible through a grant of Sh53 million from the French Government in partnership with the County Government of Kilifi, which owns the water utility company.

The new meters, according to officials, operate like the token electricity meters introduced by the Kenya Power Company, and customers will be required to pay for the water before consuming it through a mobile technology developed by French Company City Taps.

French Ambassador to Kenya Aline Kuster-Menager, while officially launching the project Monday, said the new system would enable MAWASCO to detect leakages and improve efficiency in its services.

Mrs Kuster-Menager said the system would enable water consumers to get the service on a pay as you wish solution and also to detect leakages within the system in order to stop the problem of unaccounted for water.

“For the company, it is a win-win situation where it can also get back its money and also detect leakages and improve the efficiency of the system, and for the citizen it is also a win-win situation because they can follow on their consumption and improve day to day management of water,” the envoy said at a press briefing at a Watamu hotel.

She said the French company would install another 2,400 water meters in the pilot project to make a total of 3,000 meters, adding that she had been elated by the positive response by water consumers who had already received the meters.

Mrs Kuster-Menager lauded the cordial relations between Kenya and France and hoped that the new technology would be embraced by other counties in the country with a view to improving water services in the country.

Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi thanked the French Government for the gesture, noting that the company had been suffering water losses while many customers had also been able to pay for the service in time, thus hindering proper service delivery.

“This project resembles the one employed by Kenya Power of tokens in which customers pay before getting electricity supply through mobile phones. Paying for water has been a challenge to many and has led to an accumulation of bills leading to disconnections, but this problem will be a thing of the past as the customers will now pay before using the service,” he said.

He said water theft and leakages will also be greatly reduced since the system would be able to detect problems within the pipeline to enable engineers to fix any problem, while meter thieves will no longer be a problem as the materials used in the meters cannot be recycled.

Kilifi County Executive Committee Member in charge of Water and Sanitation Kiringi Mwachitu said MAWASCO has been losing up to 25 per cent of its water to leakages and illegal connections, issues, he said would be solved by the new technology.

City Taps County Manager Meltus Mugumi said the new system would work towards reducing MAWASCO’S debts as the company will be able to use money paid in advance to provide services without having to disconnect water to unpaying customers.

“City Tap’s vision is running water in every home, so we are trying to empower utilities to improve on their finances and credit-worthiness to make sure they have the finances to invest back and improve their services,” he said.

He said customers would be able to control the use of water without fearing any disconnections as the system would be alerting them on the status of their tokens.

MAWASCO Managing Director Gerald Mwambire said the pilot project had some challenges at the initial stages as employees feared loss of jobs since there would be no more meter reading, while customers feared that the new meters would make them pay more for the water.

He said the company however sensitized both the staff and customers and the project no longer faces resistance.

He said the solution was especially embraced by landlords as tenants would manage themselves and would no longer leave unpaid water bills should they vacate the rented premises.

He noted that meter theft would reduce since the new meters are installed inside houses where thieves cannot easily access.

Walter Sirya, a landlord in Watamu, said the new technology will greatly help him since his tenants will be able to manage themselves in terms of water use.

By Emmanuel Masha

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