Each time a new political party gets into power, some communities in Ndirande Township in Blantyre-Malabada Constituency know it is that time once again that ugly political bickering resumes over the running of water kiosks in the area.
Community members complain of being denied their right to water as the bickering would sometimes results in the closing down of the kiosks as the water kiosk committees, who run the facilities, do not easily give up the responsibility to the new committee.
This is a community structure which, because of political involvement, has sometimes put peopleâ€™s health at risk.
Some of the community members interviewed say once a new committee loyal to the ruling party takes over the kiosk, the facilities are either damaged or closed down during protests by the outgoing members who are against the regime change.
However, the community members are the ultimate victims caught in such dirty political mudslinging prevalent in areas that rely on water kiosks mainly in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.
The Ndirande-Malabada saga, speaks volumes of how politics can affect service delivery, where 103 recruited water attendants from 80 kiosks were sacked.
Contrastingly, Blantyre City Central parliamentarian, Eunice Makanga while confessing that the situation used to be the same in her area, says people in her area have now done away with political involvement in the running of the kiosks.
She says a water bill of about K4 million was inherited from the previous committee in her area, but that the present committee is working on settling it.
“Through the new committee, we agreed with Blantyre Water Board (BWB) to settle the bill in bits,” she says.
But this kind of situation seems a dream for Ndirande-Malabada residents.
Attendants Mebo Kambilonjo, Dorothy Mahefu and Grace Maganda from the area recently confirmed being sacked for allegedly belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The Peopleâ€™s Party (PP) deputy publicity secretary Ken Msonda said the party was resolving the matter.
“Politicians make sure their party members control kiosks. Either they employ or give them most strategic positions,” Grace Nyimbiri, a community member, says.
According to Andrew Mbewe, supervisor of Ndirande-Malabada Water Users Association (WUA), PP followers claim no one would stop them now because it is their time to have the benefits.
“They sell the water to the community members, but where the proceeds go, nobody knows,” Mbewe alleges.
The water kiosks project was rolled out to provide access to clean and affordable drinking water to low-income earners and in communities which do not have access to the basic domestic supply network.
To ensure communal water kiosks management, a best practice model under the WUA which is inclusive of stakeholders from religious, political, traditional and ordinary members was developed.
Under WUAs, at least 280 000 people in Lilongwe have access to potable water from the water kiosks from the initial target of 800 000. And in Blantyre, about 90 to 150 households depend on 424 water kiosks.
WUAs run about 60 percent of kiosks in Lilongwe whereas about 18 percent are run through the Private and Public Partnership (PPP) arrangementâ€”and 22 percent of them are run by the board.
Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) public relations officer Trevor Phoya notes that political interference is minimal in Lilongwe, it is on the contrary in Blantyre.
“The board has engaged the community to understand that water is for everyone. And the continued public awareness on settling water bills has been critical in our messages to ensure sustainable services,” says Innocent Mbvundula, public relations officer for Blantyre Water Board (BWB).
The BWB and LWB are constructing 363 and 372 water kiosks respectively with support from the National Water Development Programme (NWDP) in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development which received funding from the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
But with such challenges as the Ndirande-Malabada people face, it remains to be seen whether Malawi will meet MDG 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability, which also seeks to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
â€”25 percent of Lilongwe Cityâ€™s population of 800 000 depend on communal water.
â€”BWB estimates that 90 to 150 households depend on water kiosks.
â€”Water User Associations are trying to rid water kiosks management of political intereference.
â€”Water boards are constructing water kiosks with donor funding from the EIB.