Dr William Muhairwe’s contract as Managing Director of National Water & Sewerage Corporation expired in November. Since then the Corporation has advertised for applicants to the position. Contributing editor Paul Busharizi sat down with the former boss to hear his parting words. Here are excerpts.
Q. How do you describe the situation at NWSC at the moment?
A. A family which has just lost its head there will be some uncertainity. The situation at NWSC is a normal situation that happens after an abrupt and unexpected exit of a family head. I am very happy that the current transitional leadership is doing well. NWSC has a set of well trained engineers, accountants and commercial officers and an able board. I think given the circumstances they are doing a very good job. They need the support of everyone especially our dear customers and the outside stakeholders.
Q. What was the status of NWSC when you left it?
A. In my handover report which was received by the board and to great extent prepared by the heads of division and departments – because it was not Muhairwe handing over but the whole team, the status was ok. A healthy company, consistently growing over the years from 1998 to 2011, building up its revenues from a paltry sh21b to the current sh131b as per audited accounts, from losses of about sh4b to an ever increasing operating profit of oversh30b. A good cashflow with fixed deposits for any eventualities, all these can be verified from the annual audit reports. Financially NWSC was and still is a very strong institution.
Yes there were many challenges and we never failed to apologise to our customers every tie we got a chance to address them on the issues of dry zones. NWSc has become a victim of its own success. Every person is indeed entitled or wanted to connect to the NWSC grid its good service – the numbers grew from 50,000 household subscribers in 1998 to about 300,000 todate. Unfortunately the facilities did not grow at the same pace. We were lucky that our predecessors had built more capacity than we required at the time. These capacities were exploited to cater for increasing demand. We also worked on wastage and added revenues. We were able to reduce wastage from 50 -70% in some towns to the current average of between 15 to 25% in towns outside Kampala and to about 30 to 39% in Kampala. But there is a level below which you cannot keep reducing the Non-Revenue Water, hence you need more greenfield investments. Hence the money we had mobilized from the donors for Kampala 20m Euros to revamp the three water works in Gaba and establish one in Mukono and Katosi and another $150m - $200m for upgrading upcountry stations. So given good leadership which I am sure is going to emerge from a transparent process and a strong balance sheet NWSC will continue to shine.
Q. Recently there have been reports that your team glossed over the problems of NWSC and cooked the books, what do you say?
A. This is a bit absurd. NWSC is a statutory body audited annually b y the Auditor General. He appoints one of the big four auditing firms – Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG or PWC to audit NWSC books. These firms rotate every two to three years. So it’s shameful to suggest that these big firms are being manipulated to produce wrong figures and audit. In the last audit 2011, the AG himself wrote even gave our accounts a clean b ill of health.
Q. How about the rosy image of NWSC that you cultivated?
A. It is the same problem. NWSC operates in the public domain. Either the customer has the service or they don’t and it is there for everyone to see. Our customers and many stakeholders know what they have been going through in the past, present and in other places. They see and compare and can talk for themselves. So it is an insult to our dear customers to suggest they can be manipulated to believe that the customer service of NWSC and the overall public image can be manipulated.
Q. Why didn’t you reapply for your job that the board had left the option open to you?
A. I think this is what generated a lot of anxiety at the NWSC and in some parts of the public. Looking at the number of people who have applied especially those from within, it was very clear that we had groomed successors who were waiting for the rain to stop and they come in so any suggestion of a resurrection from retirement was likely to be fought and challenged. And I was not quick to tell them that this is their time now, they should compete for the job transparently and fairly. Hence the rumours and anonymous documentation doing the rounds in the media, intelligence services and parliament etc.
I had made it clear to the board and the minister and later to the press that I was quiting.
Q. Given your experience with NWSC especially that you saved the corporation from being flogged off, would you say 13 years later that we have achieved a critical mass of managers to manage our own parastatals? Or is the problem bigger than our lack of managerial capacity?
A. I always believed that Uganda has or had a critical mass of managerial capacity to manage its own affairs. Look at the old UDC companies, most of them if not all of them were being managed by Ugandans and were doing very well. My experience at NWSC confirms that if you allow a favourable environment, you don’t interfere but give only the required guidance, whether political or socio-economic, certainly our parastatals or even other institutions will be properly managed. So the problem is not lack of capacity of managers but more lack of conducive “non-interfered” with political, social and economic environment for the managers to operate in.