‘It takes more time to follow lawful procedures, but it grants us our dignity.’
– Maylí Sepúlveda, CTG
At the Stockholm World Water Week 2017, the Swiss Water Partnership launched the first edition of the Swiss Water Integrity Award*. This reward recognizes organizations or projects worldwide that have made considerable efforts or which demonstrate results in achieving water integrity.
The winner of the 2017 award is Controla tu Gobierno (CTG), a Mexican organization, which focuses on supporting communities in managing and requesting access to information, as well as voicing their rights to water and sanitation. The organizations works specifically to improve community interaction with public authorities.
We interviewed Maylí Sepúlveda, Coordinator of Controla tu Gobierno, to discuss the organization’s work and achievements.
Why has CTG decided to focus on social monitoring of the Mexican Water Programmes which are run by the national authorities?
‘Our reason for choosing to focus on the Mexican Water Programmes is twofold.
First and foremost, for more than a decade, there has been a heated debate around the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation in Mexico. This debate resulted in the realization that there is need for more technical and organizational capacity to elaborate public policy proposals, draft new laws, and articulate citizen initiatives from the community level to regional and national levels.
The second reason is that the recent reforms regarding transparency and the fight against corruption constitute an ideal scenario for Mexican supreme audit institution to open a space for collaboration of greater relevance to civil society.’
What are the core activities of CTG’s project?
‘A consistent part of our efforts have been devoted to the review of the audit reports of the Wastewater Treatment Programme for the Mexico Federal State. A sample of audit reports carried out on the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) in 2015 and 2016 was also reviewed. The reviews are collaborative and included visits to wastewater treatment plants to gather field information.
CTG works with the Metropolitan Autonomous University, the Commission of the Amecameca and La Compañia River Basin, and the group for the promotion of the Xochimilco River Basin to help build capacity for social accountability. CTG organized and facilitated trainings of organizations participating in the project, university teachers, and community leaders.’
Why is this kind of work important today in Mexico?
‘In Mexico, citizens are quite capable of criticizing the government. They are already empowered to ask for better services. The problem is, at times, they lack the technical skills and information to do so. In other cases, they think they are entitled to ask for services that exceed the capabilities of local budgets.
Our role is to provide citizens with the knowledge and skills to read and understand reports and data related to their concerns, but also, and often more importantly, to make them aware of the limited resources available for providing water services. It’s therefore all the more important to keep track of how these limited resources are spent.
We all want better services, but we have to deal with limited resources. We cannot simply ask for services that are not affordable. Rather, citizens need to have knowledge of the public budget, and demand services accordingly. We want to make citizens more responsible, not simply more demanding. And, we get there by helping citizens understand that public infrastructure (and the resources that finance its construction) does not just ”belong to the government” where they have no say or responsibility; it is actually public, that is, our collective responsibility.’
What kind of qualities are important to do the work you do? Is stubbornness the key?
‘No not really.
CTG is made up of 4 people who work full time to try to cope with the huge demand we receive of committed—but often unprepared—citizens. At the same time we have to deal with authorities who think we have unlimited time to wait for their response.
Unfortunately, much depends on speed. Sometimes we should be patient, but we cannot be. It would be easier and quicker to accompany farmers to submit their request for access to information, but we try to provide them with the capabilities to act autonomously.
To inform people and to monitor their capacity to absorb such information takes an endless amount of time. However, I see it as the only way to really empower citizens. This can be in very practical ways: for example ensuring that they are able to read audit reports and ask local government why a water treatment plant, that is reportedly working, is actually discharging untreated water.’
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in your daily job?
’In Mexico, the mainstream approach to tackling a problem is to find somebody you know in politics. Clientelism is standard. There is a belief and understanding that the fastest and most efficient way to get what you need may require some “irregular” activities.
We want to change that. We think it takes more time to follow lawful procedures, but it grants us our dignity.
A person who is aware of the right to request information from the government knows that she will not as likely be fooled or manipulated. This not only helps to fight corruption, but also helps to build a kind of citizenry that is aware of how public resources are and should be used. Such an empowered position means that citizens regain their confidence in themselves and their community, and that they become aware of the importance of their individual actions for the general well-being. That process is irreversible and contagious.’
WIN is delighted to see the important work of CTG be rewarded. The organization’s work and experience with water integrity is an inspiration to the network and all partners focusing on social accountability processes in the water sector, the right to information, and community empowerment.
We will be sharing more information on the organization and its work, as well as insights from Maylí and her colleagues throughout the year. For now, take a look at this post about water data in Mexico we published in December 2016.
*The Swiss Water Integrity Award was made possible with the kind contribution of the Swiss Water Partnership. Members on the jury included: Ravi Narayanan (Chair of the WIN Board), Sareen Malik (Africa Civil Society Network for Water and Sanitation), Thomas Zeller (Swiss Water Partnership) and Johannes Heeb (cewas).