A Nyeri water service provider has been forced to lower its tariffs barely six months after increasing them.
While some consumers saw the new water tariffs by Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company (Nyewasco) as subsidised water prices, others complained about doubled prices.
For the past 13 years, Nyewasco has been ranked by the Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) as the best water provider in the country in terms of water and sanitation coverage, unaccounted-for water, water quality, hours of supply, metering, and revenue collection efficiency, operation and maintenance cost coverage and staff productivity.
The company also bagged the 2020 Global Intelligence award for its exemplary performance, especially in the urban coverage into low-income areas and informal settlements, by making sure that many households are connected to clean water and sewerage services.
Nyewasco has 35,000 water connections, covering over 500,000 people in Nyeri Town sub-county and parts of Kieni, Mathira and Tetu sub-counties.
Out of these, 50.8 percent are low and domestic consumers. This means that they spend between zero and six units of water every month.
One unit of water is equal to 1,000 litres.
The rest are commercial consumers, those who make money using water like car washes and water vendors, other large-scale consumers like schools and churches and government institutions.
Under the old tariffs, low consumers paid Sh368 monthly, whether they had consumed any water or not.
The consumers were also charged the same amount for sewerage services. This means that even without consuming any water, the consumers would pay a total of Sh736 monthly.
The company, however, introduced a new tariff used for billing customers after its approval and gazettement in March 2021 and implementation in April.
The tariff was met with resistance from residents, who claimed it was meant to overcharge them.
The company, on the other hand, maintained that the tariff review was in line with Wasreb recommendations.
“The issue of tariff is not set by the Company, neither is it regulated by the County Government the mandate falls to the Water Services Regulatory Board, however concurrence from the County Government must be sought,” the company board chair Peter Karinga said.
Charged based on the units
Nyewasco maintains that Wasreb has been deliberately reviewing tariffs to favour low-income households, adding that most of its customers are low-income consumers who have benefited from an 11 percent and 24 percent decrease in water prices for un-sewered and sewered connections respectively.
In the new tariffs, consumers who did not use any water would only pay Sh50 monthly as the meter fee.
Other low consumers, one to six units, will pay Sh47 per unit while those using between seven to 20 units will pay Sh75 per unit. For those consuming between 21-50 units, the tariff was at Sh80 while 51-100 and 100-300 pay Sh85 and Sh90 respectively.
Domestic consumers using over 300 units will pay Sh100 per unit.
This means that domestic consumers are only charged based on the units that they use and as such a consumer can pay from as little as Sh47 per month for water if they only consume one unit.
For example, if a consumer uses 10 units, the first six will be charged at Sh47 while the rest will be charged at Sh75 in the next category, which covers between seven and 20 units.
For commercial consumers using between one and 50 units, it will cost them Sh75 per unit while those consuming between 51 and 100 units will be charged Sh85 per unit.
Those consuming above 100 units will pay Sh90 to Sh100 per unit.
The company also reduced the sewer charge from 100 percent to 75 percent of the water bill.
Nyewasco Managing Director Peter Kahuthu said the previous water tariff was in effect from 2009 to 2013 and the company has been creating and implementing a cost recovery tariff.
“We followed the entire process as recommended by Wasreb, including involving the public. The low consumers enjoy reduced charges even with the reduced sewer and there are some categories where we have a minimal increase, but the approach is giving priority to the poor, who are over 70 percent,” he said.
He maintained that the company was operating at a loss because very little revenue was collected and could not cater for its expenses and relied on grants.
With the grants having subsided significantly since the onset of the pandemic, he said, the company relied on its own revenues to maintain high-quality services.
“We are coming from a non-cost recovery tariff to a cost recovery one, which means there has to be a positive increase in terms of prices because we need to cater for the production, power, chemicals, maintenance and personnel to keep up the services we offer,” he said.
He said that some errors were made after the company suspended meter reading owing to the pandemic and relied on estimates.
“We became vibrant going to read each meter and some were not accessible due to gate locks and when we read the meters, we found that in some places the consumption was higher than estimated and the arrears are included in the bill,” he said.
The company has suspended disconnections for domestic consumers.