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Published on: 25/11/2011


Village WATSAN committees are responsible for ensuring that water and sanitation services in their communities are safe and meet the Community Water and Sanitation (CWSA) standard for reliability.  However, WATSAN committees face challenges in ensuring that these systems are functional, thus working at least 95 % of the time. Some community members, though willing to use the facilities, are not ready to pay for it.

There have been instances where WATSAN committee members have not been able repair broken-down systems due to a lack of funds in their operations account as a result of users’ refusal to pay for the service. The system that had cost so much to construct may not be functional just because there was no money to service a minor problem, resulting in its abandonment.

Tariff settings in the communities
The tariff as set in most of the communities is by consensus. In collecting data for its research work, the WASHCost research team sourced information on how tariffs are set in communities. The usual mode of fixing a tariff is to call community meetings in the presence of a representative of the district assembly. The District Water and Sanitation Engineer (DWSE),often attends and can help to ensure that the charge agreed by all present will be affordable but at the same time make the system sustainable. The mode of payment is also agreed, that is whether to charge pay-as-you-fetch or to make it a monthly payment per household or per head. This is to ensure that all community members are aware of the rates and to make it binding on all.

The District Water and Sanitaiton Engineer for Bosomtwe, Kofi Michael Agyemang, explained why “pay-as-you-fetch” is the better system. “We considered a monthly fee. We realised that pay as you fetch would be much, much better. Let us say someone fetches water to construct a building pays a fixed fee the same as someone who is using two buckets a day, it is not fair. If someone has plenty of children and someone fetches water to wash their vehicles, pay-as-you-fetch is much fairer.”

However, the setting of some of these tariffs has been anything but peaceful. Communities have either fought between themselves or with the district assembly representatives for various reasons.

Seth Damesah, District Water and Sanitation Engineer for Akatsi, tells of a typical misunderstanding over the fixing of a water tariff. “The community just did not want to set a realistic tariff. The situation is that the community is suspicious of the presence of the DWSE because they think we are coming to impose something on them”. He continued, “Even when we went there to be part of their community meeting to guide them set a tariff, there was serious exchange of words amongst them due to a misunderstanding. Some of them were of the view that we were not even needed at that meeting as it was their own system and they should decide how to use it. We made it clear to them that it is the assembly’s property and we are allowing them to operate it for their own good.”


Payment for use of water and sanitation facilities at Pease
In Pease community, in the Bosomtwe district, three of the four boreholes constructed for the community were working at the time of a WASHCost visit. Because many community members are not willing to pay when they fetch water, it has become difficult to generate the expected revenue or sales from the water systems. The WATSAN committee chairman, Mr Michael Appiagyei, told the team that as a result of some of these difficulties, a fourth system that had broken down for two years now and is estimated to cost GH¢600 to repair, has still not been repaired due to lack of funds.

One of the systems visited was locked even though it was located at a place where palm nuts were being processed for palm oil. It was alleged that the workers were fetching water for their palm oil business but not paying for it. The attendant, Amma Atorsila, said the major difficulty facing her is the refusal of people to pay whenever they fetched from her system. She said anytime she tries to restrain anyone, she is insulted and abused. She had locked it up and sent the keys to the unit committee chairman. Whoever wants water must call him to open it.

Despite these problems, the village is ambitious to improve their water system. The committee applied last year to have a small town piped system installed. It would cost GH¢ 30,000. A special committee is working on this and has so far raised GH¢ 5,300 from villagers. Have they thought about raising money to sustain the system once they have built it? “We will have to look into that”, is the reply.

The situation at the only public toilet in the Pease community is no better. The two-block building, one for male and the other for female, is in a good structural state, but has not been well maintained. The facility has no electricity for illumination at night. It was dirty with used tissue papers and looked like it had not been cleaned in a long while. According to the chairman, Mr Appiagyei, this was because the community was not ready to pay for using the facility so the WATSAN committee could not employ an attendant to keep the place tidy. Some women from the community occasionally volunteer to clean the toilet but this is not regular.

A former committee member who was part of the facilitators of the construction of the facility in 1980/81 happened to be on his way to use the facility at the time the team got there, and was disappointed at its present state. He said that nobody was willing to take over as attendant because users were not ready to pay. The previous attendant was paid out of what he could collect and that was not much. When he fell ill, nobody would take over.

At the time of the visit, the toilet was almost full and the WATSAN was contemplating how to get funds to desludge it since they didn’t have any money in their coffers. They were considering going to the district assembly for aid. However, it could cost up to GH¢ 3,000 to empty the men’s and women’s toilet blocks.

Kofi Michael Agyemang, the district water and sanitation engineer, would like to be able to hold more workshops for communities to explain why it is so important to collect enough money to keep systems going. “The question that I would ask the WATSAN committees is whether the community members attend to the pay as you fetch system we have introduced and whether they are paying something before they go to relieve themselves or to fetch water.”

Payment for use of water and sanitation facilities at Abono

In Abono there are also problems with keeping the toilets clean.

There are no household toilets in this community but there are two public toilet facilities, one provided by the district assembly. Community members use these or resort to open defecation or ‘dig and bury’ practice. Even though people are willing to use this facility they are not prepared to pay to ensure that it is maintained. “The WATSAN could not afford to pay somebody to maintain the facility if people will not pay for its use,” says the committee chairman, Mr Kwame Adu Berempong. Mr. Berempong has been cleaning both toilets himself to maintain them for visitors who come to the lake. ‘However, I have not been feeling very well lately as a result of this work and so have not been able to do it for some time now. Even though we sometimes get some women volunteers to clean it, they normally clean the female sections leaving the male sections very dirty. Even this is not regular.”

The questions that come to mind are: Why should people want to use services from facilities without paying? Is it the case that they do not have the means to pay (ability to pay) or are they just not ready to pay (willingness to pay)? If they are not ready to pay, why not? Should they continue to use the service even if they are not ready to pay or should they be prevented? It is, somehow, more difficult when a whole community is not paying for the system. Assuming the facility completely breaks down what can the community do? What should be the next step of the WATSAN committee?

Dispute with a village chief
Sometimes the disputes are not over whether community members will pay but about whether someone powerful in the community wants to do something else with the money. Kofi Michael Agyemang recalls one village where the chief wanted to disband the WATSAN committee and use the GH¢ 2,800 they have saved so he can build a community centre. “I went and sat down with the chief and said it was not done to take money from the WATSAN committee to build a community centre. The chief agreed with me. But the following morning he called all the WATSAN committee into his office and authorised them to go and change the signatories to the account and he took GH¢ 2,000 for his project.”
In such cases district engineers must look for support from higher up in the system.


Change of mindset needed
Emmanuel Gaze, Director of Technical Services for the CWSA, says that a change in the mindsets of people is needed from the level of policy makers to grassroots implementers.
“When a system breaks down, there is a system in place for them to be able to secure spare parts or to generate the required revenue. But one way or another people do not actually generate the required revenue that they will need to maintain the system. Responsibilities and roles are not very clear and people are just not enforcing what they have to do.”

He wants district assemblies to take more responsibility for ensuring that systems are maintained and money is raised. “They are so apathetic to their own roles and they don’t do this. In the absence of anybody backstopping the activities of the water boards and the grassroots structures they also relax and the system slips or fails.
“We need to transform this. Everybody along the value chain needs to know that they have a critical role to play and that those who are supposed to supply the finance do that, those are supposed to generate it should generate. If we were able to do this, funds will flow to the sector and this I think is a critical link.”

He said communities can be part of the solution. “Communities always complain about affordability. They don’t pay this money in time thereby affecting budgeting implementation. They are actually part of making these policies, but they don’t identify or recognise their inputs.”

Victor Narteh Otum - DCO
WASHCost Ghana
November 25, 2011



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