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Water Utility Management International 6.3 (2011) 16

Going with the franchising flow: improving watsan services in South Africa

Kevin Wall and Jay Bhagwan

In an effort to improve the cleaning and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure in South Africa, an innovative franchising approach is being piloted at 400 schools, improving not only sanitation facilities, but also health and safety, as well proving employment opportunities. Kevin Wall and Jay Bhagwan discuss the franchising approach used and the success of its deployment.

Executive summary

The rapid rate of construction and commissioning of new water infrastructure in South Africa has severely challenged the ability of public sector institutions to keep these well maintained, resulting in large differences in the quality of water and sanitation services in the country.

Looking for a solution to this, the Water Research Commission (WRC) commissioned a scoping study in 2005 to explore the application of franchising principles, to ensure a constant high quality of services. This study found that franchising could address the lack of higher-level expertise often been identified as a key to improvement of service, as well as support the development of local micro-enterprises.

Based on this study, a pilot project was begun in 2009 at 400 schools in the Butterworth Education District, undertaken by a partnership between The Department of Education (DoE) of the Eastern Cape provincial government, Irish Aid, CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), WRC, and utility Amanz’ abantu Services (Pty) Ltd. Local people were invited to become franchisees, who were then trained and given basic equipment to clean and maintain the sanitation facilities of the schools. Before and after photographs are taken for the school principals to sign off the work, and reports on the condition of the facilities are sent to DoE to develop the relationship between the schools, franchisees, and government.

Due to the success of the first round of maintenance, the franchisees have also undertaken maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems in the schools, and the DoE has suggested increasing the pilot area to 1000 schools. Eventually the franchisees will move from a subcontract agreement to a franchise agreement, working directly for DoE.

The main issues arising from the pilot include the need for constant attention to the billing and payment process so franchisees receive the funds due, the need for replacement of broken facilities, and the need for a long-term and strong partnership with the government, however the pilot has shown strong potential for this concept to be expanded to other water services activities, such as meter reading and domestic plumbing. Other municipalities in the area have seen the success of this pilot and are now investigating how the principles of franchisees and / or franchisor can be adapted and adopted to provide services to these municipalities.

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