We caught up with Rubika Shrestha of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Nepal at the RWSN forum in Abidjan in December 2016. She works in regions of Nepal where settlements are often scattered and the WASH schemes very small. Sustainability is an issue for such schemes and accountability lines can be hard to trace.
She talked about organizations working together and the tools they can use, like public audits, to increase the integrity of rural WASH projects. She especially highlighted the need to raise awareness and give opportunities for people in rural areas to hold service providers accountable, as well as how they can do this with support from the media.
Could you tell me a little bit more about your programme in Nepal?
We implement WASH schemes in rural Nepal. The main aim of the water integrity programme component here is to increase integrity in sector. There are several things that helps us with this aim.
First we made a strategic decision to partner with FEDWASUN, the Federation of Water and Sanitation Users Nepal. It is an umbrella organization of user committees, strong in advocacy and lobbying. They work to help user committees claim their rights and voice. They have influence and are effective in political services as a representative organization of users committees. They are the right partner.
Second, Helvetas has a good image in the sector. We’ve been present in Nepal since 1956 and working in WASH since 1976. We have strong experience and have been providing basic input to the sector. And we have good practices in terms of water integrity.
What kind of integrity activities do you implement?
We work to address the gap in TAP: Transparency, Accountability, and Participation. Based on our experience, we set up tools to fill the gap. For example, we systematically run public hearings, public audits, and public reviews during the project implementation cycle.
We do the public hearings at the beginning. We bring together the community and discuss who contributes to the projects, what the roles of each stakeholder is and how they contribute to costs. We generally end up with a tripartite agreement with the user committee and local government.
Instalments are paid based on the public audit conclusions and the explanation of what has been done. These meetings help show that no users participate more than others and that the work is on track. That things are not biased. The measures that would be needed to enable the poorest to access water are discussed at the beginning and at these reviews.
After the schemes are completed the whole implementation is evaluated again. We check whether project is implemented as per agreement, on the financial side and also on the process side. Only then are the final instalments made.
These are crucial elements to guarantee success and long-term duration of projects, without bias between communities…
Public Audits in WASH projects
© HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation NEPAL
We also have information boards, or Hoarding Boards, where we put three types of information: 1) social information; how many households are benefitting, which tap stand will be for which household , 2) financial information: how much it all costs, what is borne by who, what is the money for, and 3) technical information: how many sources are in use, how many and what type of structures are there (intake, reservoir tanks, tap stands). This is placed in the centre of the community. It’s a way to ensure access to information for all stakeholders.
And another TAP tool which we promote with FEDWASUN: the district WASH investment plan. It’s a comprehensive yearly plan listing all WASH schemes that will be implemented in a district, including which organization is doing which scheme and how much money is allocated for each locality. FEDWASUN distributes this plan through local media and newspapers. It is a key tool to make service providers more accountable.
This type of plan is being replicated in other districts through the district chapter of FEDWASUN. A strong partner, they bring knowledge and experience that is developed with HELVETAS to other districts.
And do people really use the plan? How does it work?
People really do refer to the district plan. And the media use the plan to question project progress. They’ll see which agency had a plan for a community but where not progress has been made. They ask why. It helps push for effective and on-time implementation of projects.
Which brings me to another thing: monitoring. There are different stakeholders to a project: government bodies, NGOs, civil society, media, so many. We formed a team with all stakeholders to monitor projects with a checklist. The team doesn’t only monitor our own interventions. They randomly select schemes in the districts, visit and check quality, check processes and approach, check how organizations are implementing, check policy compliance. Then then they hold a reflection meeting where findings are presented.
The media are part of the monitoring team but they also do their own independent monitoring. This is good in two ways: they reflect good practices in their own media houses, and they raise issues and show what is lagging behind. This makes service providers more accountable and makes them fulfil their responsibilities. It is very important.
How do you work to influence policy? The government of Nepal recently published a WASH sector plan that specifically mentions Transparency, Accountability and Participation. Can you tell us about this plan?
There are different platforms, different forums. As a reputable organization with a long working history with the government of Nepal, we are a member of all these platforms — like the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee, the Regional WASH Coordination Committee etc. — and we share our experiences there. Our work directly implementing schemes with users in collaboration with local partners is a source of strong evidence from the field to convince people in such platforms. We provide input for policy and take part in policy dialogue based on our experience and evidence from the communities.
FEDWASUN also has a strong network all over the country. They now have gained experience with us and are strengthening their capacity on what water integrity really means. They are sensitizing themselves and then spreading the message through their network. They can advocate effectively as a people-based organization.
The national WASH sector plan is a good result of our collaborative effort. Many organizations are raising the governance issue. We bring emphasis to TAP as a means to achieve good governance.
But it still needs to be signed. We are currently in a government transition phase and a new ministry is taking over. We hope the plan will be internalized and implemented fully.