The South Asian Conference on Sanitation, popularly known as SACOSAN is a bi-annual powerful intergovernmental platform/conference trying to improve sanitation services in South Asia. The platform covers numerous issues related to sanitation governance, management and technology. Progress is highlighted, new products are proudly displayed, there is an array of exhibition halls, plenary sessions and intense discussions, and resolutions to improve the toilet plight of South Asia’s 1.5 billion people of which more than 60 % don’t have adequate sanitation access.
Topics covered in SACOSAN range from SMART implementation ideas to the demand for more investment to the need for behavioural changes to the usage of dry and eco-toilets. All these elements are definitely required and go a long way to improve sanitation services. And progress has been made, efforts are multiplied and results can be seen, but the scale of the problem requires catching other dimensions by the horn apart from those addressed now.
A Water Integrity Session at SACOSAN
The Kathmandu session of SACOSAN 2014 was an opportunity to raise one of these issues—weak integrity mechanisms in sanitation governance and management; the presence of creeping corruption that is leaching away resources meant to improve sanitation services. WIN, along with Helvetas Swiss Inter-Cooperation Nepal, Fresh Water Network South Asia (FANSA) and Federation of Water and Sanitation Users Nepal (FEDWASUN) jointly organized a side event raising the question “Is integrity an issue for better sanitation services?”.
Four sub-questions were discussed in groups:
- Is a lack of integrity a major obstacle in achieving sanitation goal in the South Asia?
- Anecdotes and experiences: Did you come across integrity issues in sanitation?
- What are integrity challenges in the rural and urban context?
- How do you strengthen integrity in sanitation services?
Based on the four group discussions, the side event concluded that integrity is a major issue in sanitation governance and that it has not been properly addressed in the South Asian context.
Integrity Concerns in Sanitation Governance
Some of the main concerns raised in the side event include — funds are not accounted for and expenditures do not reflect ground situation; standards are not adhered to; there is a lack of accountability for public and school toilet maintenance; and there is no systemic urban sanitation in place; especially for marginalized groups.
Decision making processes are not transparent, and there is a lack of data availability and integrity while planning processes and budget allocation are forced by vested interests; and key positions are cornered by powerful elites. Financial accountability is poor and a very tight last minute schedule for implementing projects results in poor quality output. Budget allocation, planning strategy reflects well on paper but in reality, implementation does not adhere to the principles.
It was pointed out that monitoring mechanisms are weak, while audits, both public and social are mere rituals. People are generally not aware of integrity concepts while social discrimination affects marginalized community, both in rural and urban areas. Political instability and vested politics affects sanitation projects.
Paths for Improvement
However, South Asia also has a long history of finding solutions and there is ongoing good practice that goes a long way in strengthening integrity. Some of these include the public display of funds (transparency board) and RTI. Social audit and budget tracking projects have been successful and information is being shared with people and user groups. In Nepal, an ADB funded project covers integrity aspects focused on user committee, cost recovery, where a contractor–supervisor–community approval procedure is in place.
At the end of the side event, a basket of suggestions came out for strengthening integrity for improves and wider sanitation delivery.
- Budget allocation should be based on investment gap analysis
- Participatory approach should be followed in the project planning and implementation
- Joint monitoring – by all the stakeholders, should be undertaken.
- Monitoring from the beginning up to the end is necessary to make both the right holders and the duty bearers accountable
- Should have high level of professionalism and honesty
- There should be effective rewards and punishment system
- Integrity should come out as a social campaign
- There should be a strong mechanism for effective coordination. There are many actors in the sector and there is unnecessary competition among them
- Data and information in the sector vary from actor to actor creating sheer confusion for planning and policy formulation
- Media needs to be involved in addressing integrity issues
In the end, the side event was a success to raise the stakes on integrity in sanitation and this should be a topic in SACOSAN VI plenary to be hosted in Bangladesh in 2015. The Kathmandu Declaration did not mention the need to address corruption and strengthen integrity, transparency and accountability. It is all the more important to highlight these topics.
This is a positive start but there is a long way to ensure that the issue of corruption is challenged upfront by SACOSAN investors to improve sanitation services for South Asians.