Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Viet Nam: Binh Duong Water Gets Strength from Phnom Penh Twin
August 2008

By Robert Hood, WOPs Lead Facilitator and Cezar Tigno, ADB Web Writer Barring language and cultural differences, skepticism, and other challenges, executives from Viet Nam's Binh Duong Water Supply, Sewerage, and Environment Company learned a lot from their twinning arrangement with Cambodia's Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, have applied what they learned, and are now enjoying the fruits of the partnership. Will similar twinning arrangements work for other water utilities? PLANE TRIP TO PRIME PERFORMANCE When Nhan Le, a young executive of Viet Nam’s Binh Duong Water Supply, Sewerage, and Environment Company (BIWASE), boarded a plane to Cambodia in 2007, he hoped that his skepticism would not get the better of him. He was, after all, eager to learn new things. Nhan Le and 21 other BIWASE colleagues, including their Director Nguyen Van Thien, flew to Phnom Penh to visit the headquarters of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) and touch base with their PPWSA counterparts. They wanted to see how they “do” things down in Phnom Penh—to see for themselves PPWSA’s renowned efficient operations. PPWSA’s transformation—from a war-torn water utility to a water company that brings safe drinking water to a million people in Cambodia’s capital city—has been legendary. Under the leadership of Ek Sonn Chan, recipient of the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, PPWSA’s reputation for organizational excellence, customer-oriented service, and high-level of service performance has been growing in the last 15 years. PPWSA is now known to be financially and operationally autonomous, has achieved full cost recovery and low nonrevenue water (NRW) level (clocking in at an unbelievable 6.15%), and is considered one of the Asia’s outstanding public utilities. The BIWASE executives’ mission was to discover how PPWSA achieved all these. Their visit is part of a twinning arrangement between the two utilities that would help improve BIWASE’s operations through hands-on experience at PPWSA. BIWASE—PPWSA TWINNING BIWASE provides the water needs of 1.2 million consumers in Viet Nam’s southeastern province of Binh Duong, north of bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Like many water utilities in Asia, BIWASE suffered from high-levels of NRW, faulty or inaccurate metering, and distribution system breakdowns, among other management and maintenance problems. The chance to partner with and learn from an expert utility such as the PPWSA came with ADB’s Water Operators Partnership (WOPs) Program. The WOPs program works to enable water utilities to get more people connected, deliver longer hours of service, ensure that water is safe and affordable to consumers, and improve financial sustainability and other aspects of utility performance. One of WOPs strategies is to match a stronger, “expert” water utility with a developing, “recipient” utility to enable the latter to pick the expert’s brains and leverage off their achievements. The BIWASE—PPWSA partnership, which commenced in July 2007, was the first twinning arrangement under the WOPs program. Both utilities signed a Memorandum of Agreement intended to achieve these outcomes: Identified priority areas for improvement of BIWASE operations Trained BIWASE personnel in priority areas of water supply operations Institutionalized system of process benchmarking and monitoring Measurable improvement in two or more areas of operations at the end of the twinning period The twinning arrangement is to last 18 months and may be extended upon agreement by both PPWSA and BIWASE. Its activities include exchange visits of BIWASE personnel to PPWSA, and seminars, courses, and internships on areas of operations that need improvement. Nhan Le’s initial skepticism about PPWSA’s performance levels disappeared when he and his colleagues began observing and discussing the differences between PPWSA’s operations and theirs. It was a case of “seeing is believing.” The language difference was also overcome by both utilities' eagerness to engage and understand. Convinced after the trainings and seminars, they took their newfound knowledge and motivation back to BIWASE and went into action.

PURSUING PERFORMANCE PROGRESS Today, Nhan Le and his colleagues can claim that, like their PPWSA counterparts, they are now experts, too. Nhan Le, who used to head BIWASE’s Water Loss Department, is now the Training Manager of the BIWASE Vocational Training and Capacity Improvement Center. His job is to ensure that all of BIWASE’s 800 personnel are fully-trained to apply the company’s newly-drafted standard operating procedures that reflect best practices of leading water utilities, including PPWSA. In general, BIWASE’s work processes were streamlined as Nhan Le’s colleagues found themselves with more challenging responsibilities. One was tasked to set up the Customer Service Center that offers a 24-hour customer hotline, while meter reading personnel were better trained. BIWASE now feels the benefits of the twinning arrangement. Greater revenues are coming in. There were fewer customer complaints about meter reading errors than ever. And best of all, with the better planning of BIWASE’s district metered areas—something they learned from PPWSA, NRW drastically dropped by 20%. Now, BIWASE’s NRW is at 13.6%, well on its way to the target of below 10%. PPWSA would be proud.

RELATED LINKS Cambodia Water Action—Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority: An Exemplary Water Utility in Asia

TWINNING IS WINNING IN VIET NAM With the progress BIWASE has been making within the past year, it is no wonder that other utilities in the country are following suit and have identified better practices and applied them. The water utilities of two big port cities Haiphong and Da Nang, about 900 kilometers away from each other, have found that they both share the challenge of providing quality and reliable drinking water services to their communities in the most economical and efficient way possible. They also realized that the Haiphong Water Supply One Member Company Ltd. is doing better than the Da Nang Water Supply Company. So, they also entered into a twinning arrangement under the WOPs p rogram to work on Da Nang’s NRW and management practices. “I see great value in learning from similar utilities because they have demonstrated methods that achieve results,” says Da Nang Water Supply Company General Director Nguyen Truong Anh. These twinning arrangements’ future success will bring about greater institutional changes in Viet Nam’s water sector.

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2008: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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