October 16, 2019

Faced With Public Relations Disasters, WASAC Tries To Reinvent Itself

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WASAC CEO Eng. Aimé Muzola signs the dummy cheque of Rwf 50m as annual contribution of the corporation to Agaciro Development Fund CEO Jack Kayonga looks at event in Kigali on Tuesday

A criminal investigation ordered by Infrastructure Minister Claver Gatete into water provider WASAC may have to be abandoned as it won’t be necessary anymore.

Water and Sanitation Corporation Ltd (WASAC), a government agency, on Tuesday October 15, paid Rwf 50m into the Agaciro Development Fund, a national multimillion dollar sovereign fund.

The deposit, which WASAC has been making consecutively of same amount in past 5 years, has this time been paid three months into the 2019-2020 financial year.

Since 2012, all government employees have a portion of their monthly pay automatically deducted by their institution to be put into Agaciro. Some private companies have also been doing the same, as well as individual payments by wealthy businesspeople.

However, there is no doubt the prompt payment from WASAC has another hidden motive; the water corporation’s management led by CEO Eng. Aimé Muzola desperately needs a clean name in the government’s books.

Since February, WASAC saw its reputation plummet to all time lows from a combination of increased water tariff, lack of water in many areas of Kigali and unexplained exorbitant bills.

At first, effective February, new tariff for water came into force. Residential homes that consume between 5 and 20 cubic meters (over 5,000 litres but not more than 20,000 litres per month) of water, now pay Rwf720 from Rwf331, a 118% increase.

With a cubic meter being equal to 50 jerrycans of 20 litres, many homes consume this much in a matter of days.

Immediately after the hike came into force, the numbers did not make much sense for ordinary clients, until the water invoices began coming in to homes.

Social media was filled with people posting messages expressing shock over their water bill. One posted that their bill had been not more than Rwf 9,000 per month, but that they had suddenly received a Rwf 60,000 invoice. The family shared invoice as well.

Ingabire Marie Immaculee, head of Transparency Rwanda, went a step further, writing that she would stop using “WASAC water”, and replace it with Nyabarongo river water.

“….I will shower once a week, do laundry once in 3 months, I will only cook fries and then simply wait for my death,” said Ingabire sarcastically on Twitter at the time.

As has become the norm when people feel abandoned by government agencies, those complaining about their bills also resorted to writing Twitter posts in which they tagged President Paul Kagame. The hope, usually, is that he will make a comment, which could lead to action: he did not.

Social critic and author Dayo Ntwari went further, penning a long blog post to Kagame in which he accused WASAC of “insulting” the clientele with its overseer Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA). “It’s absurd, Your Excellency. Please help us,” he wrote.

Despite press conference held May 3 to try to diffuse the situation, some comments said there actually made it worse. RURA Director General Lt Col Patrick Nyirishema said some Rwandans had no idea how to use tap water, and very often waste it by letting taps flow when they are not home.

WASAC CEO Muzola and Nyirishema presided over the media briefing together with their line boss Eng Patricie Uwase, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA).

In late June, , Minister Gatete found himself on the receiving end of anger from lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies. He had appeared over different other matters, but MPs, also unable to do anything about the situation, pleaded with the Minister to check what was wrong with WASAC.

Gatete informed the MPs that a preliminary probe had found there were fraudulent practices in some offices at WASAC. As a result, he said he had ordered a criminal investigation and forensic audit of the corporation. He said some officials had already been punished.

Two weeks later, WASAC announced that water bills of 1,400 clients had been inflated, and that they would be refunded.

WASAC has a total national clientele of 215,000 clients – the vast majority of them in Kigali, the capital and country’s main hub.

There has been no update from the Infrastructure Minister about his probe into the corporation, neither has the company informed the public if all those with inflated bills, have been paid their extra cash.

DONE: WASAC CEO Eng. Aimé Muzola hands dummy cheque of Rwf 50m to Agaciro Development Fund CEO Jack Kayonga in Kigali on Tuesday

With this litany of scandals, WASAC CEO Muzola may be hoping that payment into Agaciro Development Fund will reset its image, at least for now.

The payment was particularly smart and timely. Agaciro CEO Jack Kayonga said, while recieving the dummy cheque, that contributions from both public and private sector had significantly reduced.

“Compare to the time when we launched the situation is different today,” he said. “At the time some people gave up entire monthly pay. The other issue is that, today, while government employees still make monthly contributions, the institutions no longer top-up with the institution’s own contribution.”

It will be unthinkable for any government agency to continue probing the “patriotic WASAC”, when it is willingly, and on time, fulfilling such such noble national cause.

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