In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Cross River State Water Board Limited, CRWBL, Chief Victor Effiom Ekpo disclosed that the board will soon do away with water meter. He said this is to salvage the board from the lost always incurred as a result of meter by-pass. He called on the federal government to assist the state in settling the loan collected from the World Bank. He encouraged customers to keep paying their water bills, assuring them of constant and portable water supply.
There are complaints by residents of inefficient service delivery by the board. What is your reaction to this?
We have been supplying water 24 hours to our customers. The people that are not enjoying our services are the people that are not paying bills and it’s a group of persons that are not having water frequently because of pipe bursts. When we have pipe bursts in some areas, we will shut the pipe and then send our maintenance unit and possibly replace the pipe. We are working 24 hours. All the stations apart from Ikom and Akamkpa where we have issues with PHEDC, where they vandalized the transformer, though the governor has made provisions for two transformers and we are going to install them. Ikom is also suffering from light problems but very soon we will settle from light problems. So very soon we will settle everything and continue production. Every other part of the state is enjoying our services.
What led to the vandalism of the transformers?
It is just petty thieves that vandalize transformers, even our water meter. We caught some last week and we are charging them to court. We have this challenge of meter theft and water by-pass that is going on. We are talking as management, so we want to do away with water meters. We want to do away with it in the sense that if you are using water board water and your meter was stolen from your house, we will connect you directly and give you an estimated bill. If people will pay 3, 000 naira monthly; because the average people will pay 3, 000 naira while the small people will pay 1, 000 every month, so meters will not come in between our customers. For the past five years, we have been facing meter theft and that is the major challenge facing us as well as water by-pass.
What do you mean when you say water by-pass?
What I mean by water by-pass is meter by-pass. Meter by-pass is a situation whereby a house owner, a customer will not allow the water go through the meter so that the meter will not read. He will just by-pass the meter and be using water. Like last month, water board by our calculation of the water we pumped out to the general public was worth about a hundred and something million naira. Hundred and ten million naira to be very precise. But the money recovered is less than 10 million. So it’s too poor, the cost of production is quite expensive and people are not paying because of the by-pass and the vandalism of our water meters.
How about the grant from the World Bank? (Cuts in)
No! Not in this administration. It was during the administration of Senator Liyel Imoke and Donald Duke that the World Bank funded Cross River State Water Board and this new administration. I think they gave us about 10 years to settle down so that we start paying back the loan. So now the Cross River state government has started paying back the loan. So there is no loan, there is no grant, there is nothing. It is the state government that is funding the board. And it’s also the state government that is paying back the debt. The debt has been spread to a long term and I would also use this opportunity to call on the Federal government if they can help Cross River state to write off the debt knowing that water is an essential commodity. Sometime last year, I heard that the president declared a state of emergency in the water sector. So the people need water and like this COVID-19 global pandemic which water is one of the things that are needed to fight this virus by washing your hands, washing your face and all that. So I want to call on the federal government to encourage the Cross River state water board limited in the fight against COVID-19 and also to write off the debt collected from the World Bank.
What led to the loan? And which specific area did the board invest it in?
It was used in the construction of a water treatment plant. Urban water treatment plant; we did one at Okpoma, Obubra, Obudu and Ogoja. So we have new package plants in these local governments. So that was what the loan was meant for; to build a standard water treatment plant.
What is the state of these water treatment plants?
Perfect! They are working very perfectly.
How do other places that do not have the treatment plants manage to have access to quality water?
As water board, Cross River state water board only focuses on urban areas in the state. So we have an agency that tackles the other villages. We call them ‘Rural Water Development Agency’. They drill boreholes in other local villages. They handle the other small ones.
There are complaints of colour water in the state. What could be the cause?
I don’t think there is any complaint. I used to hear about colour water but since I took over the leadership of the water board, I’ve not heard of any complaints. Sometimes we have radio shows where people call us to report about the colour of our water that is pure because His Excellency, the governor has equipped our lab. We have a world class in the office here for running tests and conducting water analysis of the water we send at any given time. We also have the quality control that follows our water to the point of consumption by our customers. So they trace it to check the colour water and we have clean and potable water.
So what could have been the cause before now?
If there is any complaint which I’m not sure of. If there is any complaint maybe it’s due to pipe burst. If you have an opening in the pipe maybe dirt can through the pipe. So when you are pumping it water will flush it. As soon as possible our maintenance team will replace the pipes. We advise our customers; if you have issues report to us, if you have any leakage, any pipe burst, report to us. So for your water not to be contaminated you draw our attention; we replace the pipes and you will allow the water to rush for about 5 to 10 minutes to flush all dirt in the pipe so that you start enjoying portable water.
How efficient are these maintenance/field staff?
They used to be three, but under my administration and the administration of Senator Professor Ben Ayade, he provided us with official vehicles. This is the first time in the history of Cross River state that we have about 11 maintenance team with a supervisor. We have the head of pipeline maintenance that moves round the streets and we have opened a social media platform and other platforms with a series of numbers that one can call to complain. When you call us to complain, in the next 2 or 3 minutes, you will see our maintenance team at your door post working in your house, well kitted and doing what is expected of them.