Water Sector Experts Look Back, Forward to Water Integrity Progress

Conference Reporting

Integrity is a loaded term. Some take a narrow perspective of its meaning – for example, the auditor who views integrity only as a matter of financial irregularities or malpractice. There is, however, another, broader perspective of integrity – one that gets at issues of fairness in policy development and governance; one concerned about issues of transparency, accountability, and participation.

This take on integrity is not just about naming and shaming. Nor is it just about where you are on The List — whether you’re number 1 or 37 or 102. It’s also not just about statutes laid down as law or as commandments on stone.

Instead, integrity is about the terms for getting to a better system – of capacities, habits, processes, and cultures. It asks and answers two critical questions: What have we already learned? What still needs to be done?Ravi Narayanan, Chair, Water Integrity Network

What We’ve Learned

It has been 7 years since the publication of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report, and its revelations of corruption in the water sector. In August at this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm, WIN invited water sector leaders from industry, government, and non-governmental organizations to learn about the follow up publication — the soon-to-be-published Water Integrity Global Outlook (WIGO)—and to share their perspectives on the key challenges and opportunities for water sector integrity.

As WIN Regional and Programme Coordinator Binayak Das quipped in his opening presentation on WIGO, water integrity may seem to be out of the closet, but the door remains simply ajar, not open. There is more awareness that, as in other sectors, water is tainted by corruption along all points of the value chain. However, there is still much work to be done to document findings, share knowledge, learn from experience and mistakes, and contribute to the SDG process. The WIGO will highlight some of the most interesting water integrity initiatives of the past years and will hopefully help open the door more widely, to inspire a broader base of interested and engaged parties.

In the panel discussion that followed, moderator Ravi Narayanan, Chair, WIN, was joined by:

  • Jeremy Bird, Director General, IWMI
  • Damian Indij, Manager, LA-WETnet at UNDP Cap-Net
  • Jack Moss, Executive Director, Aquafed
  • Ulrike Pokorski da Cunha, Head International Water Policy, GIZ
  • Håkan Tropp, Managing Director, Knowledge Services, SIWI

Below, we summarize their discussion of the question “What have we learned in trying to increase integrity in the water sector?”


What Still Needs to Be Done

In the years since, so many different institutions have started working on integrity approaches that Ravi Narayanan questioned whether the next wave of work would have to prioritize organizational alignment over advancing water integrity goals. Håkan Tropp disagreed, noting that, one, while many were working on integrity there were still too few, and, two, there needs to be diverse strategies at all levels to prevent corruption chances from taking root in the first place. Damian Indij concurred, noting that what is now being offered as capacity development, while important, merely scratches the surface of what is needed to achieve integrity results. Moreover, he added, capacity development has to be seen as part of a broader strategy of work – both one-on-one with institutions and inside the institutions themselves. It is an ongoing process that also faces a lot of resistance.

Jack Moss drew attention to the behavioural piece of the anti-corruption struggle, noting that the public’s increasing unwillingness to accept corruption has nevertheless suffered from recent high-profile corruption cases that show just how difficult it is to uproot. Behavioural change, he asserted, is therefore not enough. Where the sector will see success, he countered, is in creating systems and processes that get the right people to the right place and prevent them from ever being in the wrong place. Tools like audit trails that ensure third party oversight create the right roadblocks and barriers for rogue individuals and roguish behaviour. Ulrike Pokorski da Cunha agreed, acknowledging that it is easier to support individuals that want to address corrupt practices if the systems and processes are already in place to back them up. They can point then to processes that should have been adhered to, show how the bad practices are seen in the data, or even point to the specific corrupt practices that were outlined as risks in the procedures. She also mentioned that working implicitly with partners and focusing on integrity can be easier, while talking explicitly is difficult.

Jeremy Bird added that because corruption is not the water sector’s experience alone, there is an opportunity, then, for the water sector to cooperate across sectors to see reform gains. A broader definition of water integrity is important to be able to cooperate with other sectors.

WIGO and the Way Forward

The media spotlight on corruption will continue to place water integrity on the international stage, and to grow government, private, and non-governmental initiatives for change. Water integrity is now a priority work area for several organizations and diverse institutions in several countries have undertaken projects to assess and reduce integrity risks. Thanks to these efforts, we continue to improve our understanding of the dynamics of corruption and remedial measures. More importantly, with more research and knowledge sharing among water sector stakeholders, we have a chance to see integrity success and better performance in the water sector.

A joint reflection by WIN and seven institutional partners, the WIGO is being developed to capture these developments. We thank our invited experts and guests for sharing their take on the water integrity context. Your additional feedback is welcome.

Stay tuned as well for more reporting from the Water Integrity Network sessions at Stockholm World Water Week.

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