Kenyan water CSOs lead by example in promoting accountability

Launch of the annual CSO performance report

KEWASNET, the Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Society Network, launched its third annual Civil Society Organization (CSO) performance report on March 20th this week.

The report is a frank and proactive self-assessment of how CSOs have contributed to the water and sanitation sector in the financial year 2015/2016. For the first time, it also provides unique insight into the extent to which corruption affects the water projects of CSOs in Kenya.

The donor community supporting projects in the region and the Kenyan regulator welcomed the report.

The report chronicles how CSOs are responding to a shifting policy and financial environment. It points out key areas of improvement for civil society action.


A direct and crucial contribution to achieving national water and sanitation goals

The CSOs who contributed to this year’s CSO performance report invested 2.95 billion KES, or close to 30 million USD, into water and sanitation projects in Kenya. These investments went towards building capacity in the sector, supporting water resource management initiatives and directly providing water services to approximately 880 000 people and sanitation services to approximately 130 000 people. This already significant investment represents only a part of the contribution of all active CSOs in the country.

The CSO report builds on the results of an assessment framework developed by KEWASNET and cewas: the Integrity, Quality, and Compliance framework, or IQC. The total IQC score of a project (between 0 and 100%) is based on aggregate scores in seven areas of analysis: 1-Context analysis and community engagement, 2-Government engagement, 3-Quality and compliance, 4-Project planning, 5-Project implementation, 6-Project follow-up (including O&M and monitoring) and 7-Reporting and learning.

IQC results from financial years 2015/16 and 2014/15

There are strong and weak performers across all types of organizations but there are still variations in how different organizations score in terms of IQC: international NGOs tend to have slightly higher scores, so do organizations with bigger project budgets. Different aspects of IQC are also stronger than others: context analysis and community engagement are strengths for most organizations but government engagement and project follow-up are serious weaknesses across the board.

The average IQC score (68%) is fair and participating organizations are keen to use the findings of the report to improve their performance further. KEWASNET is ready to support them and is already planning improvements for the next version of the report.


New configurations of civic space for water and sanitation CSOs

The Water Act published at the end of 2016 is a welcome clarification on the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in the water sector. By codifying how decentralization is to be enacted in the water sector, it opens up new avenues for civil society to weigh in on sector developments and hold local duty bearers to account. But, it also is still being challenged in court and was a long time in the making –it was first introduced in 2014 and enacted in 2016. It is not a surprise that government engagement may be a weak point for civil society projects given the uncertainty. Although, as the report rightly highlights, there is growing potential and willingness for collaboration.

Kenya has a vibrant civil society community but as in many countries in the last couple years, there have been some suggestions that civic space is being reduced or controlled more tightly. This directly affects the willingness of stakeholders to engage and the types of projects that will be favoured by CSOs.

‘Our analysis over the series of State of Civil Society Reports is that in many countries, and in all global regions, civic space has worsened appreciably in recent years.’
CVICUS, Status of Civic Space Report 2016

Recognizing the role and contribution of CSOs is therefore all the more important. The CSO report does this and will hopefully be increasingly accurate and comprehensive in future editions, to account for the work of an even wider array of organizations.


A challenging environment

Several external factors affect the way CSOs can operate in any country. There can be opportunities for government engagement at different levels depending on who is mandated as primary duty bearer for water and sanitation developments. There can be a policy environment more or less favourable to civil society work (freedom of association, of assembly, and of expression play a role). There can be incentives given and limitations imposed by donors/sources of funding. The prevalence of corruption is also a factor that is specifically examined in this year’s report.

The report highlights that, on one hand, CSOs estimated 10% of their investments are lost to corrupt practices and that here are signs that the actual figure may be higher. On the other hand, about 50% of respondents to a survey among other sector stakeholders claimed that some form of payment or favour was often or sometimes expected for CSO projects. Getting this kind of data is surprisingly uncommon but it’s indispensable to getting a better understanding of how corruption affects the sector and what are the best ways to tackle the issue.

‘NGOs are no more immune to corruption than companies in other sectors but for development organisations it can be especially harmful and have a knock-on effect on reputation, funding and donations. […]’
The Guardian, Dealing with corruption in your NGO, Monday 28 January 2013.

By being more transparent on these issues, owning up to shortcomings, and pushing for continuous improvement, KEWASNET and the organizations that contributed to the report are taking a brave stand and leading by example in terms of accountability. Donors take notice!


Donors have a key role to play to further encourage sustainable action in the water sector

Hardware projects, short term projects, project with obvious countable beneficiaries and simple stories tend to be easier to fundraise for, especially when individual donations are solicited, especially online. This will naturally be hard to change. It is an incentive for civil society to stay in familiar territory, innovate less, and be very careful about disclosing failures or inefficiencies, to the detriment of the sector.

The CSO performance report is clear-eyed about these pressures on CSOs and their weaknesses generally. As antidotes, the report points to ways for CSOs to work in new roles, better account for beneficiaries, and ensure the water sector reaches the long-term targets it has set for itself. Achieving the human rights to water and sanitation that are enshrined in Kenya’s constitution and reaching the SDGs will only be possible with integrity. Stakeholders must collaborate, engage more deeply, and focus on the effectiveness and sustainability of their work.

Institutional donors are uniquely able to support change and encourage CSOs in this direction: to diversify their portfolios and also work on sanitation and WRM projects, and especially on sector governance and advocacy initiatives; and, to better follow up on projects, focus on sustainability, and build capacities for monitoring. Above all they can reward transparent processes and good performance in terms of integrity, quality, and compliance.


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