A lot of mix reactions have trailed the recent decision of the Taraba state government to send some professionals in various fields on a hands- on training at the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Agency. This was done towards bridging the ‘manpower gap’ in the water sector in the state. During a chat with journalists in Jalingo, the commissioner for water resources, Barr. Emmanuel Gowon, gave the reason why it was necessary to send these young professionals on training. He also talked about the various innovations and reforms initiated by the Darius Ishaku government in its mid- term. Excerpts:
What criteria did you use in selecting the trainees for the trip to Nairobi Kenya?
As for the criteria, the water agency insists on people who are professionals in their field particularly the first 50 who are fresh candidates in the water agency; Fresh in the sense that they are not permanent workers there, essentially they are casual staff. So those 50 we made sure they are selected on merit. Most of them have been with the water agency as casual staff but then that was essentially the reason why we insisted that we must get qualified professionals so that all that is needed now is not the schooling alone but to add knowledge required to run a water agency and from the response we got during the one week induction course, some have even moved ahead of what we thought was their level. We are really impressed with that!
In 2001, former Governor Nyame sent some Tarabans to China, former Governor Suntai sent about 200 to Kenya on training in agriculture, but all these ended in the government house and nothing practical was seen; can you give Tarabans the assurance that this batch would be different from others in the past?
I was not in the state and did not participate in government at the time. But here the work is there, it is just the personnel that are needed. We are doing this in conjunction with the AfDB. In fact, the AfDB insisted that we cannot have facilities without people to man them. Take for instance, the automated water vending machines is something that would require a trained person to serve as the administrator, that is in each of those kiosks. If we don’t have people, those machines would be there and there would be no need of putting them there. We are sending them so that when they come back, they would fit into those areas that have gaps in terms of manpower requirement. And let me stress here that by the time they come back and they are absorbed, you will be surprised that we would even need more. As it is. the manpower requirement for this Board is 500. We want to convince our partners that we are really prepared to make progress with them and by the time we absorb those ones, there will still be need for further employment. And the good side of it is that, this is a process of ensuring independence for the water agency where they would now generate funds and pay their workers. All we need from the workers now is the performance bond. That is why the Governor said that we would get to a time where the water agency would develop a salary structure different from the civil service. I want people to understand that water is one good source of revenue. In Kenya, they make close to N2 billion on water monthly and it is not as if they have the size of facilities and the number of people that want to connect to water. That of Danbaba, it was 50 people and not 200 that were sent to Kenya and that was essentially for Dominion Farms and it is not a government outfit. If we are not going to absorb them, then there is no point spending such a huge amount of money to train them there in this time of economic recession.
Apart from Jalingo, a good number of Tarabans reside in the rural areas, but attention has been focused on Jalingo alone, what is then the fate of those people in the rural areas that drink from the same pond with animals?
If you ‘ve been following developments,100 boreholes have been sunk and approval has been given and funds released for another 150. Our desire was to have completed the 150 before the 29th May, but the release of the funds came a little bit late. Now we are working towards identifying those in dire need of water because the need for water is graduating. There are those who have the water but it is not clean. There are those who don’t have the water entirely. So we are working in identifying the needs and prioritize. We will commence on those local governments that can be accessed. There are local governments that cannot be accessed at this point. Take for instance, Karim, you cannot go there with heavy duty vehicles now. So there own would be deferred till after the rainfall. Sardauna is the only local government that has not enjoyed this government gesture and the reason is obvious; the terrain there is not viable for borehole development. So His Excellency has requested that we develop a substitute for them and include it in the 2017 budget. Now, we discovered that Sardauna has a lot of streams, that is surface water and springs too. So we have now categorized that as ‘streams and spring water development’ under the budget and it has been approved in the budget. We have now engaged a consultant because some springs are not robust. So we have to identify how to harvest the water so that we would supply to communities. We have Sardauna and certain parts of Karim Lamido; places like Gomu, Bambuka and Panya. They have a lot of springs there. We are going to develop those springs and harness the water to the communities around there including Munga that has a lot of underground water. Apart from this, His Excellency has given us permission to meet the AfDB that is partnering with us in respect of Jalingo, to see how they can work with us in rural water supply. We have had discussions with them and at a point they came here to assess in terms of needs for water in the rural areas. As it is now, the bank has given the approval to provide additional outside what we are doing now and that is going to be in the form of boreholes. In fact, just about two weeks ago, the federal executive council passed a resolution entitling the federal ministry of finance to sign an agreement with World Bank because the ministry is as a go- between. So once that is done, we would be required to go and sign for a soft loan. So efforts are really on to ensure that water is brought to the rural areas where the majority of our citizens are. We really value them! Don’t forget that we are operating in times of real financial scarcity but any opportunity we have, if it means liaising with development agencies, we would do that! In addition, a budgetary allocation is been made for the collection of rainwater. We call it ‘rainwater harvest’ and we want to start a pilot scheme may be in Sardauna again where the amount of water gotten in a year is high. So rainwater harvest provision has been made; about N200 million has been made. We have seen the technology elsewhere and the governor is happy that such a thing can work.
We heard the Governor saying that in Kenya, the transaction between customers and the water agency is done electronically, is that going to be the case with the Jalingo project?
That is our direction now. In fact, the automated water vending machine is structured in that way. Every drop of water that comes out of that vending machine is recorded online. The administration in the headquarters know that this amount of water has gone down and it must be associated with someone’s card- the water vending machine card. It eliminates waste and instils discipline in the use of water because if you have money in your account, you won’t want to waste it. We are going online including every aspect of the agency. Things like pipe breakage, blockages and others would automatically reflect in the headquarters and as it is now, one aspect that we did not highlight on why we are sending this people to Kenya, is a critical component of our partnership with the AfDB- that is the issue of reforms. And here the reforms is in the area of finances. You need to train people to fit into the arrangement they are insisting on.