Eng. Gakubia Robert is Chief Executive Officer of the Water Service Regulatory Board in Kenya. He held senior positions in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, before becoming the Director of Water Services. He holds a BSc degree in Civil Engineering form University of Nairobi and MSc Sanitary Engineering degree from IHE Delft, Netherlands. He is a corporate member of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya and a Registered Engineer with the Engineers Board of Kenya.
Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB) is a non-commercial State Corporation established in March 2003 as part of the comprehensive reforms in the water sector. The mandate of the institution is to oversee the implementation of policies and strategies relating to provision of water and sewerage services. WASREB sets rules and enforces standards that guide the sector towards ensuring that consumers are protected and have access to efficient, affordable, and sustainable services.
Some of its functions include:
To issue licenses for the provision of Water Services, determine standards for the provision of Water Services to consumers and establish procedures for handling complaints by consumers against licensees. They also monitor compliance with established standards for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of facilities for Water Services, they monitor and regulate licensees and enforce license conditions. A part from these they advise licensees on procedures for dealing with complaints from consumers and monitor how these procedures are operationalised. To the consumers they develop guidelines for fixing of tariffs for the provision of Water Services and also develop guidelines for, and provide advice on, the cost-effective and efficient management and operation of water services
Kenya Engineer (KE). In the course of your development to this level what challenges have you encountered?
Robert Gakubia (R.G) As a Civil Engineer, our job faces several challenges. Our profession is based in the public sector; as a result, when the public sector is dysfunctional we suffer. Look for example at the water sector, when there is little investment in the sector there is very little engineers can do. Sometimes those problems are much larger.
KE. Talking about young engineers, in the water sector do you also experience the skills deficit from graduates that other industries complain about in this country.
R.G Yes, I have been involved in the recruiting of young engineers and I notice the level of skill deficit in the new recruits during such exercises. There is a fundamental skill deficit from some graduates and I think the Engineers Board of Kenya is trying to address this through quality assurance. I am lucky having gone through a well structured and balanced Civil Engineering programme at the University of Nairobi
KE. Would you take up teaching at the university if you had the chance, considering there is a deficit of experienced engineers as tutors?
R.G. No. I can talk to students on practical things but not teaching them as a lecturer, I have never liked teaching. That does not mean I cannot talk to students. The fundamental principles in engineering never change.
KE. How about continuous professional development, does it help in the course of one’s career as an engineer?
R.G. Yes it does, personally I have taken several courses to develop my skill since graduation and even went for Masters. There are some companies that help young engineers with this, having established internal structured programmes. However, professional development remains the responsibility of the engineer. I have seen many engineers identify their skill gaps and then taking a conscious decision to improve themselves.
KE. Tell us about your strategic plan 2013-2017 at WASREB.
R.G. We have five strategic objectives in the plan. Before we came up with them, we had to analyse the scenario and discover what the issues were that if addressed the sector would go forward. For example, we had to ask, what are the government policy objectives? The government wants to increase rural and urban access to clean water and to reduce non-revenue water. The issues we then identified include, governance, sustainability of service provision, regulatory of water services and stakeholder participation. Using these, we came up with the following strategic objectives in the plan; to enforce the legal and regulatory framework governing the provision of water services; to ensure efficiency and viability in the provision of water services; to monitor sector progress in realizing universal access; to strengthen WASREB’s institutional capacity; to promote stakeholder participation in the delivery of water services
KE. Are you achieving these objectives?
R.G. We do a regular review of our strategic plans and I would like to report that we are making good progress on our objectives. There is just one major issue that I could highlight and this is to do with devolution. We have to align our legal framework with the requirements of devolved governance systems and the constitution of Kenya. The new Water Bill is at advanced stages in the National Senate and will result in a new legal framework for the water sector. When you look at the water coverage, we are at 53% and moving toward the 100% coverage desired by the Vision 2030.
KE. How wide is the work you are engaged in, in order to achieve the desired universal clean water coverage?
R.G. The job we are engaged in is huge and wide; we have to make sure that people follow the right standards. We have to enforce the design standards and correct management practices in the water sector. This job is moreover complicated further by the ongoing conversations between the National and the County government on the issues of jurisdiction. The primary responsibility to provide clean water is with the National government; however, the infrastructure must be set up in the counties.
KE. Many boards and regulators in Kenya experience challenges with enforcing the regulations and standards they have set in place. Do you experience similar challenges?
R.G. Enforcement is a big challenge. We now have a devolved system of government, when enforcing we encounter people who think that this should be the mandate of the county governments. The enforcement is further complicated by issues of capacity. The water boards and companies must make a conscious effort to build the capacity required. The water boards must also be constituted properly.
KE. How about sewerage and sanitation, how is the country performing in that front?
R.G. We have a big problem in that, we have very low access to sewerage system, and it is a major issue. In our last report, the access was at 16 percent, which is very low. Matter of fact we are considering the introduction of a sewerage levy. We are a fast urbanising population and a proper sewerage system is needed.
KE. How do you review the performance of the utilities under your jurisdiction?
R.G. The boards have targets and performance indicators that we review. There are nine key performance indicators that we consider including; water coverage, drinking water quality, hours of supply, non revenue water, metering ratio, staff productivity, revenue collection efficiency, operation and maintenance cost coverage and personnel expenditure as a percentage of the operation and maintenance cost.
KE. What roles do engineers play in your organization?
R.G. We have two engineers and just added a third one, the technical department is the core department in our organisation. We deal with quality standards and employ technicians to carry out the inspection of installations. We have engineers working in projects among other professionals like economists and accountants.
As an addition,
Professionals have a very critical factor in the development of infrastructure in this country. Say there is cost overrun in a project; one must be held accountable. As a professional, you must reflect as to the cause of the problem. An engineer must be sure of the statements they make and should have a strong conviction on their professional positions.