It is the Government’s property mentality
The local town council would install taps in various places around the community where I grew up and also repair them. What happened was that if the tap handle broke (which was frequently), we would wait for the council to repair it, and this was rarely done. In order to remedy the issue temporarily, we would cut pieces of old bicycle tyres and tie them around the top of the tap to stop the water from running. We would just remove the piece of rubber to draw water and put it back after that.
I do not think that it ever occurred to residents to make contributions and fix the tap themselves since it was a small amount involved. What caused that? It was a mentality of what Zambians call “it’s the Government’s property” where you expect the government, in this case the council, to fix your problems. Yes, it was the council’s job to fix the taps, but what if they did not do so and we were being inconvenienced? I think the community should then have taken it upon ourselves to fix the taps since we were the ones who had to fight with the rubber ties. It was a tricky thing to get them off the taps and back on without getting drenched!
Many years later as an adult, I was visiting my parents one day and sat under the proverbial, but this time real, mango tree. The sun was shining, as it usually does in Zambia, and life was good – what with the delicious lunch my mother had prepared.
A woman who looked very fearful and distressed came and asked for “the Chairman.” I took it she was talking about my father. I called him and he came to speak with her and after the pleasantries, the conversation went as follows:
Lady: My son, X, broke the borehole handle.
Dad: What happened?
Lady: I am not sure, but he just told me that he had broken it. Here is the part that was broken off the borehole.
Dad: I will make sure that the borehole is repaired. Please tell your son that he should not play at the borehole otherwise the whole community will suffer if it gets broken.
Lady: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I am very sorry about what my son did. I have reprimanded him and he is also very sorry.
After the lady then left, I asked my father what this was about. He said he was the Community Chairman and so was in charge of ensuring that the communal boreholes were fixed and maintained.
Pay for fixing your own borehole!
Apparently, and NGO had funded sinking of the boreholes, and had consulted the community before doing so. The arrangement was that the NGO would sink boreholes in various places and the community would have to pay for their maintenance on their own. The community agreed to this arrangement.
The residents decided that the best way to raise the money for maintenance would be for each household to contribute a small amount each month. A bank account would be opened and the community Chairman and other officials would be signatories while the community could have access to the bank book. Anyone who broke a borehole would report the matter to the Chairman immediately. This made people take good care of the boreholes since they did not want their names to be associated with breaking the boreholes.
I realized that recipients of aid would take good care of donated infrastructure if they were made accountable for them (e.g. reporting that they had broken the borehole) and also if they made monetary contributions towards its running. I found this quite an interesting situation compared to how communal taps were maintained when I was growing up.
Let us stop encouraging people to be unnecessarily dependent on others, but be as self-reliant as possible. It can be done.