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What started off as a commonplace lecture-like meeting in the Lira District Council Hall, ended up in a spirited discussion about a variety of issues around the delivery of water services in a decentralisation framework. Conditional grants for water and sanitation; mobile phones for water; as well as Hand Pump Mechanics Associations (HPMAs) were the key issues under consideration.

By Lydia Mirembe and Deirdre Casella in Lira, Uganda

This was on the first day of a three-day learning visit to Lira District, which attracted participants from the Triple-S Ghana Workstream and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA). The hosting delegation comprised the entire Uganda Workstream team, Lira District political leaders, technical staff, extension workers and hand pump mechanics. The presentation about the delivery and coordination of water services under the decentralisation framework spurred the most vigorous discussion, with the Ghana colleagues expressing interest in learning how the District Water and Sanitation Conditional Grant (DWSCG) works and whether it is a viable formula. The DWSCG is a quarterly disbursement of funds by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED). After allocation and approval by MoFPED, a cash release is sent to the districts through the Bank of Uganda. But this only happens after the District water Officers have submitted quarterly reports and workplans to the Ministry of Water and Environment by the 30th of the month ending the accounts with allocated amounts. In this respect, the Ghanaian team raised a whole host of questions:

  • Where does the grant come from?
  • Are there any challenges prohibiting the timely disbursement of the grant?
  • Why is the lion’s share of 70% of the grant allocated to new infrastructure?
  • Isn’t 8% allocation too small for maintenance?
  • Shouldn’t there be more expenditure on maintenance of old sources?
  • Where do the pre-construction software activities fit?
  • How does the private sector come into the picture?
  • What is the money from user fees used for?
  • How does the District Water Office work with the District Local Government?

By way of response, the Ugandan team explained that much as the formula may not be perfect, it provides a guideline on how to spend that conditional grant. Failure to comply with the conditions comes with serious legal repercussions and can easily lead to the imprisonment of the culprit.  The team further clarified that whereas the 70% of the budget is allocated to construction of new sources, the detail that goes in there covers all the necessary steps including pre-construction community mobilisation and sensitisation; training of communities on source management.

Moreover, it requires more funds to set up a water facility than to service it. To make it a two-way learning experience, the Ghanaian team also shared their own approach so that both countries could learn from each other. From what they shared, Ugandans learned that: In Ghana the process involves all stakeholders including: political leaders, development partners, and technical staff and target communities. The planning, coordinated by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency goes through all levels including: the headquarters of CWSA, the regions, districts, and communities. Just like in Uganda where the District Council approves budgets, the District Assembly in Ghana plays a crucial role in planning for water and sanitation.

However, it was observed that whereas the Ugandan approach allows for a comprehensive and detailed WASH planning, the Ghana approach only affords one paragraph of WASH in the Medium Term Development Plan. “Water and Sanitation issues are not described in detail in the District Medium Term Development plan and we need to start working towards that,” Tom from Ghana suggested. Long after this learning visit has ended, discussions will continue on what is the most workable approach to allocation of district funds for water and sanitation programmes. But both the Ghana and Uganda team will agree that whatever the allocations, due attention should be paid to provision of new water facilities as well as maintenance of existing ones in order to provide WASH services that last.

Current allocation of District Water and Sanitation Conditional Grant by the Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda
Investment in new sources70%
Software12%
Operation and maintenance8%
Sanitation6%
Office operations4%

 

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