The rich also cry: Runda residents take on association over Sh700m annual fees

A section of Nairobi’s Runda neighbourhood. Some Runda residents are protesting alleged misuse of over Sh700 million per year by their association, whose managers they accuse of locking out specific members from its leadership positions.

Photo credit: File

Some Runda residents are protesting alleged misuse of over Sh700 million per year by their association, whose managers they accuse of locking out specific members from its leadership positions.

They say they have never been presented with an audit report of how the money, which is equivalent to annual allocations to the Constituency Development Fund for seven constituencies, is being utilised by the Runda Association.

They also accuse the entity of enlisting them as members without their consent and charging them for non-water services through its registered water company, Runda Water Limited (RWL), even though some of them get these services privately. These charges are added below the water bill on receipts issued by RWL. 

Dr Rael Lubasi, who has lived in Runda for 20 years, is not amused by this arrangement and despite sending a resignation letter from the association as a member on January 17, RWL is still slapping her with bills for security, road maintenance, garbage collection, street maintenance and water infrastructure rehabilitation.

She found herself listed as a member of the association though she had never signed anything to approve her enrolment.

When she was locked out of becoming a member of the association’s committee, she resigned and hired private security and garbage collection services.

In her resignation letter, she also listed the association’s failure to accord members a fair chance to participate in the association’s management, discrimination against first-time applicants for elective positions, and denial of access to critical information that affects members’ affairs.

The total charges for non-water-related services average Sh5,904 per month for each of the association’s 10,300 members. By Tuesday, June 14, Dr Lubasi had accumulated over Sh20,000 in unpaid bills though she had formally resigned from the association months earlier.

Her lawyer Mungai Kalande wrote to the RWL protesting the bills for non-water services.

“You are very much aware the non-water related charges are illegal and unlawful and contrary to the provision of the Water Act and are currently the subject of a long pending water Board,” Mr Kalande wrote.

Dr Lubasi urged the company not to bill her for water services and demanded a refund for all “illegal and unlawful charges levied on the water bill from inception of the account to date”.

“In default thereof, we shall move to court and seek mandatory injunctive reliefs against yourselves,” her lawyers wrote to the RWL and copied to the Athi River Water Services Board and the then acting chairperson of the Runda Association.

Several other residents also told the Nation how they have suffered under the association and its water company. Many feel helpless because “many people do not believe that the rich residents of Runda can be overcharged for some services”, one of the locals said.

Messing us up

“We have a clique of people who are really messing us up. A majority of people who [live] in Runda are expatriates who do not want to be involved in any conflict. As such, the minority, us, are left helpless,” said Charles Magara.

He complained about exploitation by RWL and its failure to explain what they called exorbitant charges.

“The charges by Runda Water are almost three times normal rates. I pay an average of Sh6,000 yet before moving here (Runda), I used to lease a house and it had a garden and my bill never went beyond Sh3,000. They are doubling the charges” he said.

Every month, he pays an average of Sh10,000 for water, half of which is the actual bill and the rest for non-water-related charges. He also accused the association of failing to account for the hundreds of millions collected from the members every month.

“It is not possible that the garbage collectors consume all that money. In matters of roads, members get ballast from Kampala Road to fill the potholes themselves. They (association leaders) are doing nothing. Someone is eating the money,” he said.

He added that most members do not know the criteria used for electing the association’s leaders and that those who raise concerns are blocked from running for leadership positions.

Members also wonder what happens when they take the association to court because "their lawyers often disappear every time the matter is taken to court".

Joseph Kariuki complained that the association treats members like children yet they bought their property without involving the association.

“Our main problem is Runda Water. They do not listen to anyone’s complaints; they just assume they can control water how they want. They are charging us heavily and they do not care,” he said. 

He said the route to justice had been tough and that most people had resigned to their fate. He and other residents fear that the association has such influence that it can interfere with their court cases.

Raising the same concerns

Advocate Kalande revealed that he is handling several cases for Runda residents raising the same concerns against the association and RWL. He expressed his frustration with the Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb), it is treating the issue in a cavalier manner.

Seeing nothing was being done by the Runda Association and RWL, Dr Lubasi wrote to Wasreb in February but did not get any response. She then wrote a complaint letter to the Commission on Administrative Justice (the Ombudsman Office) on March 18. Its Legal Officer Owino Kojo wrote to Wasreb asking it to urgently investigate the matter and furnish them with a report.

It is only then that Dr Lubasi was invited for a meeting on April 25, which she attended alongside her lawyer.

It was agreed that Wasreb would respond to their queries on whether it had licensed RWL, approved its water tariffs, and authorised it to levy non-water-related charges, specifically the Runda Association Fees.

They also wanted to know whether Wasreb was aware RWL obtained 75 per cent of its water from the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (Nairobi Water) but charges residents five times more for the same water, and whether it had given RWL the monopoly to supply water in Runda to the exclusion of Nairobi Water.

The last they heard from Wasreb was that it had licensed RWL and that residents should sort out their other issues with the association, Dr Lubasi told the Nation.

Wasreb’s director for licencing standards and advocacy, Peter Njaggah, told the Nation that RWL is licensed by the board and registered as the sole supplier of water to about 10,354 residents of Runda and the nearby Karura sub-location in Westlands sub-county. He added that RWL has a valid five-year licence that expires in August 2026.

He said legal mapping was conducted in consultation with the county to have a delineated service area.

“This means that currently, RWL has the sole responsibility to serve in the area specified by the licence in line with Section 78 (a) of the Water Act, 2016,” Mr Njaggah said.

Water tariffs

Wasreb added that it approved the water tariffs charged by RWL, that the charges were subjected to public consultations before being gazetted (Notice No. 5197) on May 28, 2021, and that the tariff is valid until June 30, 2023.

On whether Wasreb was allowed to charge for non-water services, the board said it noted that the amount charged for water was indicated separately in the same receipt issued by RWL to Runda residents.

“Wasreb issued a licence and approved the tariff for RWL. The regulator is mandated to monitor compliance with the set conditions in both the tariff and the licence but has NO mandate to micromanage the affairs of Runda Association,” Mr Njaggah said.

On why Runda water charged exorbitant rates compared with Nairobi Water charges, Wasreb said RWL had justified its costs that were approved by it and it has the right to impose the charges.

One borehole

He added that the Runda Association does not obtain water from Nairobi Water but from two sources: a river abstraction (about 3,500 m3/day) and one borehole (60m3/day),” he said.

He clarified that RWL is licensed and regulated by Wasreb and that the Runda Association is a residents’ group that offers common services in the estate that Wasreb has no mandate to oversee.

“From Wasreb’s perspective, RWL has not breached the implementation of the approved tariff. The complainant has NOT been overcharged for water services,” he said, adding that the matter had been filed with the office of the Ombudsman and Wasreb has responded to it as it did to the Nation.

A day after the Nation wrote to the Ombudsman’s office (with no response), Dr Lubasi was furnished with the Ombudsman’s response to Wasreb regarding her complaint.

The Ombudsman noted that the Runda Association is a separate entity from RWL and there may be no justifiable reason for the latter to collect revenue on behalf of the former.

“The Commission would like you (Wasreb) to advise Runda Water Limited to desist from charging the Complainant for Runda Association Services since she is no longer a member of the association,” the Ombudsman said.

The Nation reached out to Runda Water Limited and Runda Association on June 2 and June 15 with no response.

The Nation had requested Runda Association to elucidate the process taken before one becomes a member of the association and whether one automatically becomes a member by virtue of owning a house in Runda estate.

The association was also asked to explain what criteria were used by the RWL to offer and charge non-water services, how the association handled complaints raised by members as well as how a member can successfully cease being a member of the association.

The association was also asked to explain how its leadership is elected and if it has received complaints from some members regarding the difficulty in joining its management and why it had not issued the members with an audit report on the utilisation of the non-water-related charges billed by RWL.

On June 15, the Nation got a response from Runda Water directing our reporter to the General manager to whom we forwarded the questions.

By press time we had received no response.

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