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How Bangladesh citizens and the media exposed corruption in water management

September 28th 2020 at 13:17
By: Ivanna

This brief is based on the study β€œWater 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.

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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

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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 projectsΒ  (river dredging and irrigation). They brought nationwide attention to the losses.

The wide coverage on the issue in the national media,Β  prompted the government to review the β€œKabita Nitimala 2010”, the policy governing Haor Management, which led to the implementation of the β€œKabita 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 β€œKabita 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.

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Credit: Touhidul Hoque Chowdhury

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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.

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[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.

WW4D: Government, pay your water bills!

September 17th 2020 at 13:04
By: Ivanna

Water utilities are crucial for guaranteeing the human right to safe water and sanitation. The session β€œGovernment, 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 Β 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 Β 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.

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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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