The turnaround of the National Water & Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) almost ended before it begun.
Shortly after being appointed boss at the water utility Dr William Muhairwe, arrived at his Jinja road office one morning to find the premises padlocked by the URA, for defaulting on VAT.
As if that was not enough the internal revenue department was looking to attaché any assets of the corporation they could get their hands on to redeem the debt – including the managing director’s official car.
That was 1998, this week Muhairwe’s contract comes to an end and he thinks it’s time to move on.
“The average person craves legitimacy, the exceptional person builds legacy” they say.
NWSC’s numbers during his tenure tell an interesting story.
Customers to whom the corporation supplies water has jumped to 270,000 today from 50,826; the number of towns it supplies has doubled to 23 from an initial 12 and turnover is up six fold to sh131b while operating is up nearly thirty fold to sh30.3b. And the company showed a net profit of sh13.3b from being a loss making enterprise when he took it over.
All this growth was done in the context of a public utility company. An interesting story because when Muhairwe joined the corporation the Finance ministry was preparing it for the block like other public companies.
Privatisation will still take place but more likely through the more acceptable listing of shares on the stock exchange.
His legacy at NWSC may take many shapes but I think most importantly he put to rest any delusion that indigenous Ugandans cannot be good managers. Many people complain that it is not lack of management skill that dooms our enterprises but lack of finance. Muhairwe showed that where there is good management the money will follow.
Also to note is that because of the turn around of the corporation it has recently been inundated with the requests to share this knowledge. As a result NWSC now has a full fledging consultancy department – with the requisite PhDs and training center, that is fielding contracts from as far flung regions as Trindad & Tobago to Singapore, South Africa to Yemen.
NWSC external services as it is called, also does management consulting locally and has added sh8b in revenue to NWSC’s top line in the five years of its existence.
And one other point of interest is that in turning around the corporation Muhairwe is quick to point out, was done with some few changes by the human resource he found at the company. NWSC was never lacking in manpower.
There is still a lot of work to be done.
With just under 300,000 accounts in 23 towns, it means that even in Kampala water coverage has a long way to go before universal coverage can be claimed. If the numbers for water provision remain woefully inadequate it is a sadder story with sewerage coverage. An eventual extension of NWSC’s mandate outside the urban areas should also be on the cards.
And one last legacy other CEOs would do well to emulate; In an attempt to raise the service delivery efficiency of the far flung corporation, Muhairwe devolved power away from the center, allowing regional managers more autonomy on budgeting
and hiring, leaving major capital expenditure and overall policy decisions to the Jinja road head office. As a result new cadre of leaders is coming up through the ranks at the corporation. The long term implication maybe that the corporation will not flounder after Muhairwe is gone but may actually grow from strength to strength.
So when an epitaph for Muhairwe’s time at NWSC is written it may very well read “He worked himself out of a job”