Water is a basic commodity. However, for decades, access to clean water and sanitation for urban residents of Taita Taveta has been like a luxury, due to ever growing population in the county’s major towns.
The little rainfall in the region as made the situation worse, as homes in Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta towns stare at dry taps for weeks.
The urban population of the county has been on exponential growth, from 7, 397 in 1979, 64,289 people in 2009 to 93,774 people in 2019 according to census reports by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
According to reports, Tavevo Water And Sewerage Company, which supplies the commodity in the county, inherited old and dilapidated infrastructure.
The main water infrastructure, which was constructed in the 1970s, is old and dilapidated, and cannot operate optimally to meet the needs of the fast growing population.
Also, over 30 percent of pumped water is lost through leaks, illegal connections, and non-functional meters or is not billed because of corruption by unscrupulous staff.
These challenges, therefore, makes about 50 per cent of the population in the towns to lack access to safe water and sanitation.
However, there was a sigh of relief among the residents when the county government secured a Sh2.5 billion funding from World Bank to supply water to over 100,000 residents in Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta towns.
From this project, the county department of Water and Sanitation revealed that they have already signed a Sh589 million contract with Suhufi Agencies Limited to upgrade water distribution systems in Voi, Taveva and Mwatate towns.
The project, according to the department, includes laying of a 57-kilometre primary and secondary distribution pipelines to upgrade and expand the water supply.
Apart from the laying of new pipes, Tavevo will also get technical support to strengthen its capacity while also boosting its logistics by getting exhausters, water bowsers and vehicles for their routine water monitoring activities.
However, this long awaited project has run into a hurdle. The county assembly has accused the department of irregularly awarding the tender to the company and are now investigating how the agency was awarded the multi-million tender.
The MCAs are accusing the department of procuring 10,490 metres worth Sh85 million unprocedurally.
The assembly’s joint committee of Public Accounts and that of Water and Irrigation are questioning whether the metres value for money and whether procurement procedures were followed in purchase of the equipment.
Speaking at the assembly, the chairperson for Public Accounts Committee Anselm Mwadime accused the department of failing to disclose the contract details to the House.
He said the joint committee is interrogating the project concept, payment vouchers, delivery of the projects among other crucial concerns.
“We have requested them to furnish us with Board minutes to countercheck the approvals, the project file, project vouchers and bank statements,” he said.
He said the committee secretariat will be given time to go through the document to establish the status of the allegations.
“After the secretariat is through with scrutinising the documents we will conclude the matter depending on the outcome of the allegations,” he said.
The assembly’s chairperson for Water and Irrigation Jones Mghanga said the committee will resume its sittings once the MCAs come from their recess this week.
“The committee might also be forced to summon the contractor to establish the truth of the allegations,” he said.
The assembly will later summon the department’s County Executive Committee (CEC) member Esther Mwanyumba, her County Chief Officer (CCO) Silvanus Mwakoma among other officers to disclose further details of the contract after they failed to do so in a grilling a fortnight ago.
Taita Taveta is among four Coastal counties that benefitted from the World Bank project referred to as the Counties Participation Agreements meant to improving sanitation and water supply infrastructure will end the irregular supplies in their major towns.
Other Coastal counties that have benefitted include Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi.
Tavevo project officer Patrick Wadu said the project will be able to replace the old pipes, augument the existing systems and extend provision of water to reach underserved households.
“We have already resolved some of challenges to ensure that no water is lost for us to be able to generate enough revenue to support proper operation and maintenance of our pipeline,” Mr Wadu said.