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Turning district Hand Pump Mechanics Associations (HPMAs) in Uganda into viable business entities.

IRC Uganda in collaboration with the District Water Offices (DWOs) of Kabarole and Bunyangabu, as well as Technical Support Unit Six (TSU6) on May 17th organised a one-day leadership and management skills training for Hand Pump Mechanics Associations (HPMAs) to ensure continuity of WASH service provision. The training attracted 11 Hand Pump Mechanics from Bunyangabu and 17 from Kabarole.

The objectives of the training were:

  1. To enable participants to reflect on the meaning of HPMAs and how to manage them.
  2. To enable the HPMA members to understand their roles, responsibilities and expected contributions towards improvement of WASH in Kabarole and Bunyangabu districts.
  3. To enhance their capacity in community based management skills.
  4. To help them understand group dynamics and how to deal with it.

Hand Pump Mechanic Associations (HPMAs) in Uganda are recognised entities that provide technical support on maintenance and rehabilitation of rural water supply facilities.

The idea of forming Hand Pump Mechanics Associations was conceived as early as 1999 in Kibaale District, with the aim of having a team of well trained, competent and readily available technicians to ensure operation and maintenance of water sources, especially in the rural areas. The HPMA was also seen as a solution to check quality of work and ethical conduct of mechanics.

In 2011, following successful formation and operation of HPMAs in Kibaale, Jinja, Kaabong, Kasese, Arua, Yumbe, Adjumani, Mpigi and Kiboga districts, the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) got interested in the HPMA concept and undertook to roll out the associations in all districts in Uganda. The objective of the undertaking was to create a formal technical support mechanism for Operation and Maintenance of rural water facilities and increase functionality of rural water supply facilities.

HPMAs were established in all the rural districts within one year but operationalization of the associations remained a challenge. The primary focus of HPMAs was to get contracts from the District Local Governments for rehabilitation of water facilities and be able to earn income to sustain themselves whereas that of MWE was to build a cadre of skilled technicians to provide timely technical support to Water and Sanitation Committees on operation and maintenance of water supply facilities. A key challenge was how to support the associations to become viable self-sustaining business entities. IRC Uganda has since been at the forefront of supporting the Kabarole District HPMA – which has since multiplied into two following the creation of Bunyangabu District, curved out of Kabarole.

Specifically, IRC has previously done the following to support Kabarole HPMA:

  • Conducted a market assessment for HPMA services in the water and sanitation sector and a business model for the association.
  • Lobbied the Ministry of Water and Environment to secure a waver allowing district tender boards to prioritise HPMAs when awarding tenders from the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA).
  • Building HPMA capacity, especially on business management skills.
  • IRC developed a business model for the HPMAs.
  • Facilitated exchange learning visits between districts, particularly Lira and Kabarole.
  • Engaged the HPMA in collecting data on functionality of point water sources.
  • Engaged the HPMA in assessment and rehabilitation of non-functional sources, particularly under the Run for Water fundraising campaign in 2017

In the one-day leadership and management skills training on May 17, 2018 the Kabarole HPMA reviewed their performance since 2016, while the newly created Bunyangabu HPMA set its business goals. Key among the achievements of Kabarole HPMA is the increase of functionality of water supply facilities and the reduction in down time from several weeks to just three days.

It was also revealed that both the Bunyangabu and Kabarole HPMAs are still grappling with some challenges such as:

  • Inadequate working capital for the HPMAs.
  • Imbalanced /variations in individual shares and dividends.
  • Some members assuming other members' roles.
  • Failure to organise meetings within the association.
  • Lack of confidentiality within the association.
  • Some members executing contracts individually rather than as a group.
  • Communication gaps and lack of information sharing within the association.

Key recommendations:

  • Mandatory annual subscription as provided by the constitution.
  • Review and dissemination of the constitution among all members so as to understand their individual roles and responsibilities.
  • Re-election of the association's executive members.
  • Equal investments and sharing of contract dividends.