Photo: Clanwiliam Dam - Winfried Bruenken (Amrum) / CC BY-SA (

Weakened public governance enables abuse and corruption to flourish in South Africa’s water sector

New Report

Corruption in the water and sanitation sector in South Africa has put the water security of businesses and households, and indeed the entire country, at risk. The impacts are severe.


Money down the drain: Corruption in South Africa’s Water Sector

On March 12, 2020, Corruption Watch and the Water Integrity Network released an important report, Money Down the Drain: Corruption in South Africa's Water Sector, which examines the extent and drivers of corruption in the water and sanitation sector and makes recommendations on actions to be taken to address such corruption and maladministration.

The report highlights the extent to which corruption has become systemic, involving all levels of society, and rife in both the public and private sectors.

So while formal rules, policies and laws appear to be in place, in reality, informal rules prevail.

The report describes a number of cases which reveal the involvement of a vast array of players, from plumbers, tanker drivers and senior officials, to mayors to ministers, and the many private businesses that benefited richly from corruption, and in some cases, actively promoted it.

Although the behaviour of public sector officials and politicians comes under particular scrutiny, the report also makes clear how the actions of private individuals and businesses, who deliberately exploit weaknesses in the public sector, have an acute impact on water security and on the human right to water. Some companies have actively created conditions which serve their own ends, and in which corruption flourishes.


From corruption in procurement and policy to institutional control

The three broad areas of corruption are characterized in the report.

  1. manipulating procurement and operational processes.
  2. influencing policy and regulatory decisions
  3. taking control of key institutions.

The report suggests that the much-lamented lack of institutional capacity in many water sector institutions is the result of deliberate institutional weakening in order to facilitate corruption. It is notable that between 2009 and 2015 the average term of office of the director-general in the Department of Water and Sanitation was only 11 months. Coupled with this are deliberate attempts to weaken mechanisms for oversight of institutional performance, thus clearing the way for the removal of constraints on illicit behaviour.


A wicked problem, but one we can act on

The report presents a set of recommendations that encompass an overarching strategic approach, and drill down into more specific interventions. These include:

  • Designating the water sector as an ‘island of integrity’;
  • Ending impunity and instilling a culture of consequences;
  • Ensuring the appointment of honest, ethical and committed leaders to run key institutions;
  • Improving and strengthening procurement systems and practices, as outlined in the National Development Plan, including integrity pacts, e-procurement, open contracting data standards, and red flag monitoring;
  • Facilitating transparency in regulatory decisions;
  • Addressing broader environmental factors; and
  • supporting the media and civil society to uncover corrupt activities and pursue them until appropriate remedial action is taken.


Full report


Executive summary


Media release


Enquiries? Please contact:

Phemelo Khaas PhemeloK[at]

or Claire Grandadam cgrandadam[at]


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