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RUWASA transformation: The new beginning

Published on: 16/02/2021

The transformation journey of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency in Tanzania.

Eighteen months ago, I wrote about the decision by the Tanzania Government to establish the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASA). At that time, very little was known about RUWASA, its structure, staffing, budget, and operating model. Given the high expectations and experience of managing rural water supply and sanitation projects in the past, many had doubts whether RUWASA would be able to implement the much-needed changes in the sector.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent three days in Morogoro with RUWASA management, and representatives from various government institutions. I was there at the invitation of the Director General, to present the findings of the year-long study we did to assess the capacity of RUWASA and its staff. Below, I provide a brief account of what transpired during the meetings in what seems to be a promising future as RUWASA transforms itself into an effective and capable organisation.

Participants at the meeting in Morogoro (photo by RUWASA)

RUWASA management, and representatives from various government institutions at the three-day meeting Morogoro (photo by RUWASA)

Fixing problematic projects

RUWASA inherited 212 ‘problematic projects’ from the Local Government Authorities (LGAs) countrywide. These projects are famously known as miradi kichefuchefu in Swahili. Most of these projects did not produce water and were overdue. They had consumed a lot of money, creating huge dissatisfaction to communities, local politicians and even President Magufuli himself. So, since its inception, RUWASA has been under enormous pressure to ensure these projects are completed and provide the intended services to the communities.

Several strategies have been used to remedy the status of these projects. Some projects were redesigned and rebuilt, while in other areas, contractors were replaced by local technicians and engineers to complete construction using the force account. Of course, there are divergent views amongst practitioners on the efficacy of force account, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the method not only helps getting numerous projects implemented at reasonable costs but also provides employment to wananchi (citizens) in areas where a particular project is located.

These strategies have helped RUWASA clear a backlog of stalled projects. For example, according to the verification report issued by the Ministry of Water, it shows that by December 2020, RUWASA had completed 85 projects (which is an average of 5 projects a month). The goal is to complete most of the remaining projects by December 2021.

Rallying everyone behind a common vision

RUWASA is a new organisation, established under the new Act. However, we need to face the blunt reality that its establishment is built on the legacy of rural water supply and sanitation from Local Government Authorities (LGAs).  In fact, findings of the surveys we commissioned as part of the capacity assessment, show that about 90% of RUWASA staff are from LGAs. With such a background, it is obvious that RUWASA has had limited choice and flexibility in recruiting staff and has had to figure out how to get the most out of current staff.

To do that, the first thing the top management of RUWASA did was to craft a new vision and mission for the organisation:

  • Vision: a rural community with access to portable and sustainably managed water supply and sanitation services for social economic development.
  • Mission: to develop and manage rural water supply and sanitation services in a participatory, professional and cost-effective manner’

According to the Director General of RUWASA - Eng. Clement Kivegalo, the new vision and mission highlight a fundamental shift from the access to service delivery paradigm, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and professionalism on how projects and services should be delivered by RUWASA.

After crafting the new vision and mission, the top management has spent a significant amount of time engaging staff members at all levels on the new vision alongside providing clarity on the strategic direction of the organisation. Whilst at the same time modelling their behaviours and actions in a way that should inspire everyone within the organisation to adapt to new style, culture, behaviours and ways of working.

Experience from other transformation programmes in the public sector shows that for organisations such as this, uniting everyone behind a new vision normally takes time. However, there is an indication that the strategy adopted by the top management of RUWASA is yielding positive results. For example, our study shows that out of 412 staff who participated in the survey, 89% indicated that they have a clear understanding of RUWASA’s objectives.

We love our jobs… but!

While good progress is being made to rally everyone behind a new vision and mission, we found that a lot needs to be done to create a supportive work environment for RUWASA and its staff. One point which came up clearly in the study, the limited freedom to plan and execute work effectively.

The results of the survey we commissioned indicate that while the majority (99%) are satisfied with their work, very few (41%) indicated to have flexibility and choice in deciding how they work. Interestingly, we found that the lack of choice and flexibility equally affects both junior and senior staff in the organisation.  

This finding came as a surprise to me. Under RUWASA the expectation is that staff would have a high degree of freedom to do their work, more than when they were at LGAs. Besides, one of the highly publicised reasons for establishing RUWASA was to streamline accountability of service delivery through the Ministry of Water alongside relieving technical staff from ad hoc interferences. It seems that this hasn’t changed much. Nonetheless, the findings are in line with the study we did in 2017 which highlighted that in Tanzania’s civil service, the lines of reporting and accountability are focused upwards, with district water teams being responsible for reporting to central government at the expense of structures promoting a focus on communities (users).

We need to be realistic that probably there isn’t much that RUWASA can do to change the culture of civil service when it comes to upward reporting and accountability. However, exploring the most effective ways to give staff control and freedom to plan and decide how to execute their work effectively (albeit within the existing constraints) is something that the top management of RUWASA and the Ministry of Water need to consider seriously. Let’s face it, as much as we put pressure on RUWASA to deliver, leaders should recognise that they have a responsibility to create an enabling environment to facilitate efficient and effective delivery of services. 

Going back to the basics

One of the major surprises from the study is that what usually gets mentioned in many capacity assessment studies, for example lack of funds, inadequate number of staffs and technical skills etc., didn’t feature as major issues impending RUWASA’s performance. For example, the results from the surveys we did, show that many (70%) feel that they have the skills needed to do their job, but few (36%) indicated that they have the necessary tools to enable them to work effectively. In fact, most employees (80%) indicated that they are not able to use or apply basic project management tools such as WBS Chart, PERT chart calendar, status table etc.

  • Tools: the techniques and devices selected by the organisations with the aim to facilitate the management of the project, meet its objectives and facilitate its contractual obligations. Among the tools are techniques to control budgets, track project progress and evaluate performance. Tools include the technology available to manage the information the project generates and improve its analysis to allow the project to make the right decisions.
  • Process: the activities defined in the policies and procedures and the roles and responsibilities required in managing water and sanitation projects, these include government and development partners’ regulations which heavily influence the project. Processes determine the work that needs to be accomplished which drives the requirements for people skills.

These findings point to a systemic problem in the sector. Since the start of the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP), the government and development partners have invested a lot of money in construction projects with huge emphasis on technical aspects rather than robust processes and tools to enable effective project delivery. As a result, we may have a good number of skilled water engineers, but many have limited project management skills. This is because, over the past thirteen years of WSDP, we have invested very little in ensuring that our engineers are good project managers. I believe that the transformation of RUWASA and other institutions in the public sector in Tanzania, should go in tandem with implementation of an ambitious plan to develop a cadre of qualified project managers.

There was a consensus amongst the participants that most of the existing tools aren’t customised and integrated into the RUWASA project delivery cycle. Also, most of the policies, procedures and the roles and responsibilities required in managing water and sanitation projects are not standardised across the organisation, making it difficult to track compliance and accountability in projects and services delivery. For example, in our study we found that although having water permits is mandatory, there is no standardised process within RUWASA to ensure every water project has a permit. As a result, we found that many projects in the implementation phase lack basic requirement such as water use permits. To put this into perspective, we noted lack of standardisation in other areas as well, e.g. design reviews, land acquisition, material tests etc.

Overall, the many project management aspects highlighted above seem to be a continuation of the past legacy at LGAs. If the past approach to project delivery continues, there is a risk that we would never be able to get away from problematic projects in the foreseeable future. As we embark on a new beginning of the RUWASA transformation, we must remember that: 

“Operations keep the lights on, strategy provides the light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train engine that moves the organization forward”.  – Joy Gumz

With all these insights, the main question remains. How can we transform a large and complex organisation such as this into an efficient and effective organisation? In my next blog I will highlight some of the ideas and the approach we are taking in shaping the RUWASA transformation.

Disclaimer: Lukas Kwezi currently works for the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as Water and Sanitation Adviser, based in Dar es SalaamHe writes blog posts in his spare time. Though he may talk about the work he does in the sector, this is neither a corporate nor a political blog and the opinions and ideas expressed here are solely his own, not those of his employers. 

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