Interview: Mohammed Al Mowkley
In what ways would the privatisation of water infrastructure in the north-western region improve efficiency in the long term?
MOHAMMED AL MOWKLEY: This is the first in a series of projects that are part of Saudi National Water Strategy 2030’s distribution sector restructuring and privatisation programme. This programme involves merging the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture’s 13 directorates and the four NWC city business units into six regional clusters under the NWC, as well as rolling out concession contracts in each cluster. Requests for proposals (RFPs) have already been issued for a management contract in the northwest cluster, covering operations, maintenance and customer services, in order to pave the way for subsequent concessions. In addition, we have commenced the merger process and preparation of RFPs for the five other clusters. Therefore, it is indeed a part of the government’s privatisation strategy and fulfilment of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s long-term development blueprint.
Outsourcing operations and maintenance activities to qualified, established global players is a big step towards public-private participation. It would help us recreate clear baselines and improve many performance parametres, thereby enabling interested private organisations to participate in the water distribution business.
There is room for private sector partners to contribute to further improvements in the sector, which will lead to increased customer satisfaction and higher commercial returns.
What international benchmarks have been considered to ensure that best practices are applied within the local economy?
AL MOWKLEY: We have considered global best practices as well as lessons learned from both successes and failures. In particular, we have looked at practices in the UK, which has a fully privatised water sector; mainland Europe, where there are long-term lease or concession arrangements; and Spain, where there is water scarcity.
Furthermore, we have studied examples of management contracts in Armenia and Oman, and concessions in Indonesia and the Philippines. The ultimate goal is to reduce costs by optimising operations and increasing efficiency, while at the same time not compromising on citizens’ services. The government strives to improve all elements of customer service, including connections of water and wastewater, as well as continuity of supply. In addition, we have definite targets in terms of upskilling existing human resources. Acquiring more talent also remains an objective.
How is the National Programme for Water Conservation (Qatrah) addressing environmental concerns linked to water usage in the Kingdom?
AL MOWKLEY: Qatrah is a new national conservation programme that has been launched to directly address the overuse and waste of Saudi Arabia’s precious water resources. The team at Qatrah is working to reduce the Kingdom’s water consumption by 24% by the year 2022, which is critical to the long-term economic prosperity of our country.
We developed a programme of sustainable activities that will highlight the issue of water conservation and effectively address the amount of water that is wasted every day. Water is an essential part of life, and the objective of the broader strategy is to make our customers feel that they are a part of this vital mission and journey.
With a young and growing urban population, the Kingdom’s water demand needs to be managed and optimised with minimal losses and maximum effectiveness. Supply of water in all parts of the Kingdom needs to match the profile of demands.
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