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☑ ☆ ✇ Water Integrity Network

Water integrity is a woman’s issue

By: Ivanna

Despite the prominent role of women in managing household water and their specific water and sanitation needs, women  are rarely consulted about the provision and delivery of water services, and women’s needs for water for families or for irrigation are often given a low priority by water managers and decision-makers. This is a failure of integrity. Corruption in water and sanitation further increases the burden on women and girl children fetching and managing water, and puts their health and safety at risk.

How does this play out and what can we do about it? How are women specifically affected by water sector corruption, including sextortion?

Let’s find out…

 








The post Water integrity is a woman’s issue appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

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The smart investment for the water and sanitation sector is an investment in integrity

By: Ivanna

Joint statement by IRC WASH, Wateraid, and WIN.

“The ability of low- and middle-income countries to mobilize additional, repayable financing and explore financial innovations is highly dependent on the ability of the sector to demonstrate that it receives and makes good use of existing funding.”

– Sanitation and Water for All, 2020, Water & Sanitation: How to Make Public Investment Work. A Handbook for Finance Ministers

 

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are essential to the COVID-19 pandemic response. And, the performance and sustainability of the WASH sector will be decisive for how well and fast countries can recover and become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Considering this central role, why does the sector suffer so clearly from the “interlinked challenges of underinvestment and a poor performance record”? The WASH sector requires funding to at least triple to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, every 10 per cent of investment that is lost to corruption implies annual losses to the sector in excess of USD 75 billion. Because the sector is particularly vulnerable to corruption, some estimate actual losses are many times higher. Low integrity, capacity issues and mismanagement make the situation worse.

Starting in early November 2020, ministers of finance from Sanitation and Water for All partner countries will gather to “develop and strengthen partnerships for smart investments in water, sanitation and hygiene”. They have the power and responsibility to coordinate more effective funding mechanisms and attract new finance. Thought leaders in the sector agree that the ministers’ ability to do so is linked to improving governance in the sector and making better use of existing funding. We argue that it’s high time we go one step further than good governance and also focus on integrity.

Because of corruption, money we cannot afford to lose seeps out of the water sector. Low integrity contributes to inefficient and unfair investments and undermines investor confidence by increasing risk. We must take the bull by its horns and aim for accountable and transparent governance, with proactive measures in place to prevent corruption and build integrity.

 

Lost money; inefficient, unfair investments

There are important integrity risks in the planning and design of WASH interventions and infrastructure developments. The actors involved, the location, the size, and technical specifications of an intervention are all elements that can be manipulated to suit vested personal and political interests. Procurement is another major risk area for integrity and corruption because of the size of financial flows involved.

Collusion between project owners and bidders, kick-backs, and bid rigging or suppression are relatively common examples of corruption in WASH infrastructure development. As a result, projects are more expensive than they should be and infrastructure breaks down prematurely, if it even becomes operational. More broadly, other typical examples of practices with low integrity include targeting interventions to sway votes, to provide business opportunities for friends, or in exchange for favours, irrespective of population or inequalities in service levels, and at the expense of those in need.

 

High integrity risks: low investor confidence

Key sector stakeholders like service providers or utilities, must become creditworthy and able to defend their financial management and performance track records to access new finance, including repayable finance and innovative finance from new players that are used to working with possibly more seasoned actors in other sectors.

However, abuse of political power to influence utility management is not uncommon. There are many red flags for investors, including: wasteful expenditure by boards of directors (often made up of political appointees), procurement issues, patronage in human resource management, financial irregularities, poorly kept records, or unclear mandates.

Concurrently, utilities are not necessarily subject to the same oversight and control mechanisms as many government institutions. Their financial plans and statements tend to be less openly available, and public participation and reporting mechanisms less developed. These are important risks that need to be addressed.

 

Making better use of existing funding and bridging the financing gap with integrity

In its Handbook for Finance Ministers, Sanitation and Water for All highlights four critical and useful intervention areas with the potential to mobilize resources for the sector:

  1. “Maximize value from existing public funding by incentivizing sector performance, improving subsidy targeting and promoting better sector planning and management.
  2. Mobilize more funding by setting up adequate cost recovery policies, reforming tariff systems, introducing earmarked taxes and establishing an array of options for cross-subsidization.
  3. Increase repayable domestic finance through mechanisms that reduce perceived risks and pool finance at national, municipal and household levels.
  4. Encourage innovation and least-explored new approaches such as climate funds and social impact bonds, to tap sources of finance rarely accessed by the water and sanitation sector.”

Integrity is an enabling factor in all these areas and finance and sector ministers can incentivise sector performance on integrity, for example with stricter corporate governance standards, public participation measures, public disclosure, effective oversight and complaint mechanisms, and transparency and controls on staff appointments.

Integrity measures can directly contribute to increasing financial efficiency by curbing corruption and mismanagement in the use of investments. They can also stimulate bigger gains by addressing perverse incentives and undue influence of special interest groups in intervention planning and design. Integrity can help build trust of users in duty bearers, a condition for tariffs to be understood and accepted. It can also help build creditworthiness of service providers, a condition to attract new financing.

Improved integrity is a critical underpinning of sustainable finance for the water and sanitation sector. Investments in the sector should be accompanied by investments in improving integrity and good governance.

 

The post The smart investment for the water and sanitation sector is an investment in integrity appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

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How Bangladesh citizens and the media exposed corruption in water management

By: Ivanna

This brief is based on the study “Water Financing for Flood Protection in the Wetland Areas (Haor) in Bangladesh: Determining the Scope for Social Accountability” by Touhidul Hoque Chowdhury in partial fulfillment to the requirements for obtaining the degree of Master of Arts in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague. This thesis was supported by WIN.

 

Sunamganj is a wetland district in the North-Eastern part of Bangladesh, which is flooded every year due to monsoon rain and flood water from the Brahmaputra river. Flooding is a natural phenomenon in the country’s wetlands (Haor). To protect local crops from the most severe floods, the government implements crop protection embankment projects through the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB).

The study on which this brief is based, revealed that corruption contributed directly to the failure of protecting local crops during a particularly devastating flood in 2017. The research highlighted how integrity deficits within these projects came to light as a result of a grassroots civil mobilisation, which put pressure on authorities to investigate.


Credit: Oxfam

 

Media and community pressure lead to policy change

In 2017, newly constructed embankments in Sunamganj collapsed, leading to the flooding of 142 Haors. Damages estimated by the government included crop loss on 371,401 hectares with a value of over USD 800 million (rice and fodder)[1], in addition to losses in fishery and livestock.

This led the local NGOs/CSOs and media to report on the damage, linking it to poor maintenance of the flood protection embankments in the wetland areas. Local-level journalists were providing real-time reports through social media and reaching out to the local community as well as the national press. Media reports showed that not only contractors, but also engineers and other officials were involved in corruption in the construction and maintenance of the flood protection structures as well as in other major development projects  (river dredging and irrigation). They brought nationwide attention to the losses.

The wide coverage on the issue in the national media,  prompted the government to review the “Kabita Nitimala 2010”, the policy governing Haor Management, which led to the implementation of the “Kabita Nitimala 2017” policy. In the revised policy, project implementation was shifted away from the BWDB’s responsibilities and delegated to the local administration. The BWDB was made responsible for technical support of the implementation process.

Despite this swift policy change, it was revealed that there were many places where the height of the embankments was increased beyond the established design parameters, which became a barrier to the natural flow of floodwater into the wetlands.

People’s active participation in the local governance system has always been a challenge in the local development context. The geographical characteristics of the wetland areas make it even more difficult to promote people-centered governance. Because the livelihoods of the Haor community are vulnerable to the natural catastrophes (i.e., floods), the government implements water projects to protect the Haor community and its crops.

The “Kabita Nitimala 2017” is one of the policies that created scope for the local people to implement the water projects under the leadership of the local administration. It was brought forth due to the pressure from the media and local organizations on the regulatory bodies, which prompted to launch an investigation into the corruption that occurred in these projects.

The role of the media was acknowledged by government officials and NGO activists who were interviewed for the study.

 


Credit: Touhidul Hoque Chowdhury

 

Investigations by the Anti-Corruption Commission

In response to the tremendous pressure from the media and civil society, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is mandated to investigate corruption in any public institution, decided to launch an investigation. During 2017, the ACC found evidence of irregularities in the embankment development and maintenance. . Despite the ACC’s efforts in filing lawsuits against the BWDB duty bearers for negligence and malpractice during the implementation of the water projects, the wetlands communities are sceptical as to whether the responsible authorities and other parties involved will be held accountable. Currently, the cases are moving slowly.

Conclusion

The chronic failure to maintain the crop protection embankments is an integrity issue, affecting the lives and livelihoods of the community members. The policy change altered the local accountability mechanisms, shifting ownership to the local administration and providing more space for local community involvement in a region where geographical characteristics have increased the challenge of promoting people-centered governance. The new mechanisms are promising but still have their obstacles. It was, for example, revealed that since implementation there are many places where the height of the embankments was increased beyond the established design parameters, becoming a barrier to the natural flow of floodwater.

It is important that joint accountability mechanisms are encouraged to ensure that BWDB and the local administration are active participants.

Media and civil society engagement also remain crucial. They played a significant role in building popular mobilisation, informing policymakers of wrongdoing and holding all stakeholders to account, thus directly contributing to safeguarding the rights of the local population.

 

[1] Haor Advocacy Platform (HAP) Position Report Flash Flood 2017

You can download a lengthier summary of the study here:

The post How Bangladesh citizens and the media exposed corruption in water management appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

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WW4D: Government, pay your water bills!

By: Ivanna

Water utilities are crucial for guaranteeing the human right to safe water and sanitation. The session “Government, pay your water bills!” on August 25th at the Week on Water for Development (WW4D) shed light on the issue of governmental non-payment of water and sewage bills. This issue can heavily starve utilities of much-needed resources to operate efficiently and become economically viable. Also it is of great importance as most utility managers, government representatives, and development partners are aware of the matter, but rarely discuss it openly. This session brought together utility managers, development partners and civil society organizations to openly discuss, in four different breakout groups, the topics  of governmental non-payment, its impact, and the strategies to overcome it..

Research presented by Sara Ramos, member of Solutions for Water Integrity and Management (SWIM), demonstrated that 95% of the utilities investigated across 18 countries – mostly from the global south – reported cases of governmental non-payment. The reasons identified were diverse, ranging from political interference to the belief that government entities and public service providers should not have to pay for water and sanitation services.

Civil society campaign in Zambia

In Zambia, for example, services to government institutions comprised 50% of the utility’s anticipated operational revenue in the financial year of 2019/20; however, the bills were not paid. Bubala Muyovwe, from the NGO WASH Forum in Zambia, explained the diverse reasons for these developments, ranging from weakness in cooperate governance to failure to prepare financial statements. Furthermore, Muyovwe highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial stability of water utilities stating that revenues have declined even further while expenses have risen due to, for instance, the purchase of additional chemicals. Although the government has developed strategies to overcome governmental non-payment such as, the installation of prepaid water meters, the problem prevails. Muyovwe stated that the next steps of a civil society campaign in Zambia will be to raise awareness of the issue through the media, collaborate with various utilities, and to exert pressure on the Ministry of Finance.

Getting the government to pay its bills in Romania

In her opening statement, Sara Ramos highlighted that the issue of governmental non-payment is solvable and there are diverse approaches to tackle it in the long run. In his breakout session Teodor Popa from the Romanian Water Company (Brasov), presented a successful example  outlining how Romania was able to solve the problem 10-20 years ago. In Romania, the root of the problem was, among others, the lack of regulations and the problem of legal enforcement of non-payment. Consequently, certain measures were identified and implemented to address non-payment. The most important of these measures discussed were (i) the establishment and legal strengthening of regulators who can enforce the payment of unpaid accounts, (ii) the simplification of the legal process to sue for arrears, and (iii) the establishment of accountability provisions for government institutions in which they need to show that the funds have been used to settle arrears. Furthermore, through structural change, water utilities gained more independence from political interference.

What regulators can do: experiences from Rwanda

In this breakout session, Jacques Nzitonda, Director of Water and Sanitation from Rwanda,highlighted different ways that regulators can provide incentives for government institutions to pay their bills. Advocating for government institutions to allocate annual line budgets, as well as, the inclusion of indicators on government debt in utility reporting, were identified as the most influential measures to transform the issue of non-payment. Additionally, he noted that utilities should be encouraged and authorized to disconnect government institutions in case of non-payment. In the case of Rwanda, it was possible to address the issue through the increase of queries by the auditor general if a government institution has arrears. Overall, the aforementioned methods to address non-payment also played an important role in the utilities ability to take on commercial financing loans.

Supporting civil society space and voice through international advocacy

The role of civil society was comprehensively discussed in this breakout session. Al-Hassan Adam from End Water Poverty explained how a civil society-led campaign can exert pressure on government institutions to pay their water bills. The key aspects of such campaign would be to put local partners upfront and assure its flexibility.. Al-Hassan further emphasized that civil society is not homogeneous and that its diverse organisations operate differently in the light of national politics.

The key insights of this session were that the problem is very real and the question should be how we address it. People are right-holders and governments are duty-bearers; it is, therefore, the government’s responsibility for human rights to water and sanitation, and non-payment undermines it. If the government does not pay, it is the individual who will have to compensate for the costs through higher tariffs or poorer service. However, examples from Romania or Rwanda showed that governmental non-payment is a solvable problem, but only if there is the willingness and the long-term vision to make this behavioral and cultural change.

 

For more information on the issue of governmental non-payment, we invite you to read our policy brief click here.

The post WW4D: Government, pay your water bills! appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

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