WatSan.eu Feeds

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new articles available, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

When government institutions don’t pay their water bills, they push water utilities towards insolvency and service delivery failure

February 8th 2021 at 20:45
By: Ivanna

Delayed or non-payment of water bills by public entities is widespread in developing countries, and has significant impact on the bottom line of water service providers. A 2020 survey by the Water Integrity Network (WIN), End Water Poverty, Solutions for Water Integrity and Management (SWIM) and other partners showed that 95% of the utilities investigated in 18 countries, mostly from the Global South, reported cases of non-payment by public institutions and that collection rates for public customers are consistently lower than for private customers.

Access to water is a human right and yet, according to a 2019 UN analysis, 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safely managed drinking water sources or are not connected to water networks, and 3 billion people even lack access to basic handwashing facilities. The situation is putting millions at even greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic when it is paramount that services be delivered as effectively as possible.

Water service providers are on the front lines. They must maintain adequate service and ensure that new measures mandated to face the pandemic are implemented effectively. They must do this while facing shortfalls in revenue collection due to the crisis and without compromising their ability to improve and increase service provision in the long-term.

National and local governments must take action to ensure water is accessible to all and do so by supporting service providers to weather the crisis and ensure optimal service, for the long-term. The first steps are to prioritise the payment of public institutions’ outstanding water bills  and to back up the promises made in response to COVID-19.

 

Arrears from public customers jeopardise financial stability of water service providers and ability to respond to crisis

The reasons for non-payment are varied but at least 10% of survey respondents claimed abuse of political power or undue interference are to blame.

In a number of cases, the arrears represent a high proportion of the total revenue of water service providers. And, survey results show that the situation is worsening during the pandemic crisis as arrears are increasing. Two out of five surveyed water utilities suffer from increasingly delayed payments or a reduction of their bill collection ratio from public institutions. The missing money is urgently needed to provide adequate services and to ensure that the human rights to water and sanitation are realised.

There are now reports of a growing number of water utilities facing financial distress in part because of these issues. In Ghana, for example, the Water Citizen Network, warned that the Ghana Water Company Limited “will not be able to sustain a regular supply of water or expansion to reach unserved communities if the debt situation of the company is not resolved“.

 

Financial stress is compounded by lower collection rates and increased losses due to the crisis

In addition to delays and missing payments from public institutions, many service providers are also suffering financially from losses and a decrease in water demand and associated revenues. Otherwise reliably paying customers with high consumption rates, such as industry or the hospitality sector, have been hit hard by the crisis.

Many private customers, who had paid their bills may also be struggling to cover costs as they are confronted with the effects of the pandemic. As reported by the World Bank, the Uganda National Water and Sewerage Corporation for example “only collected 39% of the revenue expected between February and June 2020“.

This is leading to a general decrease in the collection efficiency of payments and is putting a serious strain on the operations of many water utilities. A Zambian water service provider shared insight on collection efficiency for our survey and research, showing a notable decrease since the beginning of 2020, with collection rates now far below the sector benchmark.

These issues are major concerns for utilities worldwide, and not only on the short-term. In the United States, for example, it is unclear for many how accumulated debt will be paid and what the impact of the crisis will be on collection and delinquency rates when emergency measures expire.

 

Measures to respond to COVID-19 provide relief, but they must be effectively funded and sustainable

Measures are being taken by governments to support water users and to provide water and relief for people during the crisis. Various governments have pledged to make water free or cheaper, put a moratorium on disconnections, and reduced or waived fees and extra costs. Governments are also, in some cases, already supporting utilities with additional financing and other measures to improve monitoring and coordination, all in an effort to maintain continuity of service. These are necessary and important steps forward that highlight the crucial importance of the water and sanitation sector.

The issues are whether, in practice, these measures are adequately funded and what their impact will be on the long-term. From our research, a Kenyan utility worker reported that: “Free water supply to hand-washing points and informal settlements“ was mandated by government to fight against COVID. But to pay for these additional services, water service providers still need to maintain sufficient income. Another Kenyan utility worker added that “the Government announced there would be no disconnections for non-payment of water bills, yet no subsidies have been provided”.

Overall, the inability for water service providers to avoid losses in revenue in combination with non-payment from public entities and accumulated arrears increase the risk of severe financial stress and bankruptcy. Immediate as well as long-term actions must be taken to protect and sustain water and sanitation services that are indispensable to overcoming the pandemic.

Two streams of action are required: a) Governments must support utilities, backing up their promises for COVID-19 relief with adequate subsidies that fit in to a longer-term strategy towards the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation. b) To ensure a sustainable financial basis for utilities, measures must be taken by governments to ensure that all public entities, at every level, pay their bills to water service providers in full and on time.

Without these actions, any progress to provide water and sanitation to all is being put at risk by the very governments that claim commitment to this target.

 

 

 

The post When government institutions don’t pay their water bills, they push water utilities towards insolvency and service delivery failure appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

Strengthening integrity: crucial in advancing water security in Asia Pacific

January 11th 2021 at 16:26
By: Ivanna

The 2020 Asia Water Development Outlook (AWDO), the just released flagship publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), introduced governance as a chapter and applied the OECD Water Governance Principles across AWDO’s five key dimensions of water security.

Among the Water Governance Principles, the 9th principle focuses on Integrity and Transparency. Based on a survey undertaken by OECD which provides a snapshot of governance gaps in the Asia Pacific area, AWDO underlined the low adoption of integrity practices and tools among the member states. It further establishes that less than 20% of the countries in the region have implemented relevant international conventions or institutional anti-corruption plans.

Poor integrity in water governance and management is a major barrier for achieving water security and resilience, which have been stated to be objectives of key sectoral stakeholders, including the ADB for the Asia Pacific region. For the first time, AWDO has specifically called for “mainstreaming integrity and transparency practices across water policies, water institutions, and water governance frameworks that are key for greater accountability and trust in decision-making, and effective implementation of water policies”. WIN welcomes AWDO’s initiative of highlighting the urgent need to strengthen integrity within the water sector processes among member states.

AWDO’s report points towards the need to address integrity and corruption in the capital-intensive water sector. At least US$75 billion is siphoned off annually from critical water projects for every 10% of investment lost to corruption. This significant risk, if not tackled, leads to misuse of the investments coming into the sector and further hampers more investments from diverse sources. Poor integrity tarnishes the reputation and creditworthiness of water sector entities and overall, the economic, social, and environmental ramifications are enormous. Mitigating corruption risks can lead to substantial savings across the sector.

WIN has worked with numerous development sector partners, donors, and government agencies to promote integrity and good governance in water and sanitation. We have also established a set of Integrity Tools and practices, useful in strengthening institutional integrity, improving performances and taking measures that prevent corruption. Applying these tools in collaboration with government agencies and water utilities in the Asia Pacific region, has led to valuable lessons and practices that can be scaled up within countries and in the region.

Addressing integrity concerns requires each stakeholder to equally collaborate; otherwise, it can be very challenging to establish good governance. We encourage ADB and other regional partners to support the implementation of the AWDO recommendations on good governance, especially on integrity among the member states.

The post Strengthening integrity: crucial in advancing water security in Asia Pacific appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

WIN’s annual General Assembly 2020

December 21st 2020 at 15:19
By: Ivanna

The Water Integrity Network’s General Assembly online meetings included official GA Members such as the OECD, GIZ, SIWI, Sida, Transparency International and a dozen other kindred key global players. These were held from the 18th to the 20th of November and highlighted the progress made in 2020, while offering preliminary showings in vital, new and continuing projects for 2021. 

On the ground projects

Despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 WIN was able to continue work on the ground:

  • In Bangladesh, with three utilities and numerous school WASH programmes. 
  • In Kenya, with local partners to deliver a Training of Trainers for 18 people, and 16 partners trained on the Integrity Management Toolbox (IMT) for Small Water Supply Systems (SWSS).
  • In Mexico, a further Training was done with the IMT for SWSS, and an integrity assessment tool for water utilities was successfully piloted. 
  • Further projects were delivered in South Sudan, Honduras, Uruguay and Benin. 

Executive Director Barbara Schreiner explained that, our Annual Plan and Budget for 2021 will continue to allow us to remain stable in staffing, and deliver targets as expected. WIN may be able to add to existing work-plans if fundraising in the pipeline is successful. 

Leadership change

WIN’s former Board Chair and now first Honorary GA Member, Mr. Ravi Narayanan, is stepping down, and was thanked for his years of leadership, which started from the very beginnings of WIN:

“It wasn’t so long ago that corruption was not a word that was spoken in polite society. This changed when WIN was born. I’m very happy to be leaving WIN in such good hands, despite the large challenges we face.”

– Ravi Narayanan,  2020

We would like to heartily welcome Dr. Letitia A Obeng, the newly elected Chair of the Water Integrity Network (WIN). Letitia is a Water Supply, Sanitation and Water Management professional with 40 years’ experience.  She served with the World Bank in managerial and director positions on water management and sustainable development. Letitia has served in leadership roles in WaterAid America, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.  She holds a PhD in public health and water resources engineering from Imperial College, University of London. 

The General Assembly unanimously elected the additional Members: 

  • Dick van Ginhoven, Secretary of Supervisory Board, (2nd term) 
  • Peter Conze, Member of General Assembly and member of Supervisory Board (1st term),  
  • IWMI General Assembly Member Nov 2020 – Nov 2023 (re-election) 

 

The post WIN’s annual General Assembly 2020 appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

Water integrity is a woman’s issue

November 2nd 2020 at 09:55
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.

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

November 3rd 2020 at 12:43
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.

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 “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.

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 “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.

❌