The National Coalition Against Water Privatisation (NCAP) says an audit of the operations of the private company, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL), has shown that AVRL has not met the obligations of the contract under which it has managed the supply of the country's water since 2006.
At a press conference in Accra yesterday, Mr Al-Hassan Adam, the Southern Sector Co-ordinator of the coalition, said a recent technical audit that was carried out in 2007 by the German consulting company, FiCHTNER, vindicated the assertion that AVRL had “so far woefully underperformed under its contract”.
Details of the audit report were made public at the conference, and the NCAP made a call for the immediate abrogation of the AVRL contract.
Mr Adam said among other serious shortcomings, the company's failure to conduct regular quality checks of water in the distribution lines constituted “a reckless compromise of the public's health and safety”.
Among the findings of the audit was that the current filtration system lacked the chemicals needed to treat water against contamination from harmful substances such as arsenic, lead, cyanide, copper and zinc.
The report noted cases in which steps in the treatment process were by-passed altogether, and the resulting water fed directly into the distribution system.
Mr Adam said such evidence “confirms recent media reports of stinking water being pumped into homes at Osu and its surroundings”.
When the AVRL contract was initially signed, it was promised that privatisation would include the introduction of new technology and expertise.
The report, however, stated that “in relation to management of plants, the crew work as they have done for many years.
The management contract has changed nothing in relation to the operation of the plants. No proof could be found of the presence of visits of specialised personnel from the operator.
Therefore, it is doubtful whether transfer of technology has taken place”.
The report also highlighted the fact that “the whole distribution process is handled like a black box. Only a few facts are known about the process”.
Mr Adam drew on the results of another study, conducted in May 2008 by TAHAL Ltd., to provide an example of a lack of information and said AVRL had deliberately sought to mislead the public about the amount of water that was lost in the system.
AVRL is under obligation to reduce the level of physical water loss in the distribution system to a level of five per cent in order to bring in extra revenue, but the 2008 study shows that physical water loss is 53 per cent in some areas.
According to Mr Adam, the company had avoided revealing that loss by citing commercial figures drawn from water receipts to represent water supply, instead of using statistics, based on the actual distribution process.
He emphasised that that amounted to a serious act of fraud, and that a similar strategy used by a water company in the United Kingdom had led to a full-scale investigation which resulted in the company being fined.
At the conference, the NCAP announced its intention to petition the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to investigate AVRL.
It has resolved that if that approach yields no results, it would pursue the matter in the courts.
Mr Adam said lack of information preceding the AVRL contract made it difficult to determine the extent of the company's negligence.
“This condition has given AVRL the opportunity to hide its poor performance,” he said.
The coalition also said it was concerned that very little improvement had been seen since the water crisis in Accra in March 2008 when a similar press conference was organised to call for the abrogation of AVRL's contract.
He said it was up to Ghanaians to ensure that politicians were held to their promises about water, and to put pressure on the current presidential aspirants to come up with detailed action plans and budgets, instead of expressions of intention, which he said were too vague.
The coalition reiterated its statement that “management contract is not the solution to the challenges facing urban water delivery in Ghana”, arguing that the government should, instead, focus on “investment, comprehensive overhaul of the system and expansion of infrastructure”.
The Media and Campaign Co-ordinator of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Mr Steve Manteaw, said it was wrong to think of water as just another commodity, “like a pair of jeans or a shirt”.
Instead, he agreed with the coalition's position that “government and donors must see water as a social service and its ownership and management should reflect this characteristic”.