Water and sanitation services mean life and dignity for city residents and are essential to urban development.
Poor integrity practices in sanitation and water operators impact severely on the delivery of these services. They directly raise costs and legal risks, weaken service levels, and threaten operators’ reputation and long-term sustainability. Improving integrity on the other hand can improve service delivery, efficiency, and credit-worthiness.
For too long, integrity risks have been underestimated or ignored by water operators because they were too difficult to measure, too misunderstood to fix, or too sensitive to address.
The first two barriers now have solutions. There are well-established tools to assess integrity risks and to address them by strengthening corporate governance, management and compliance. Water operators can now take advantage of these tools to improve and ensure sustainability of service delivery.
“An action utilities can take is prioritising transparency and accountability in corporate governance. This is what a service provider in Ecuador did with the Integrity Management Toolbox. They looked at risks and found ways to act preventively. They invested in accountability through public consultations, presentations and publications. They also used innovative ways to reach communities, promoting participation through community theatre, adding information on bills, and investing in communication technology.”
Marcello Basani – Lead Water and Sanitation Specialist, Inter-American Development Bank
Tools for integrity: understanding and mitigating common integrity risks
Getting a good understanding of the critical integrity risks is the first step towards being able to address them. There are a number of tools to help with this process: internal financial or compliance audits can provide useful input on corruption risks, as can data analysis on key risk areas such as procurement. More comprehensively, there are a number of governance indicator frameworks and assessment methodologies that can be used.
The international Aquarating utility benchmarking standard has recently launched an additional Focus Analysis to measure integrity. WIN also has two complementary tools for integrity risk assessments in utilities depending on their scale and resources, including an indicator-based Integrity Assessment.
Such tools can bring to light integrity red flags and help to identify the most severe risks at a given time: are procurement rules adhered to or more frequently applied with exceptions? Are high level positions exercised by under-qualified people? Are staff accepting bribes within the exercise of their duties?
WIN’s assessment tools are generally applied as part of a longer term integrity management change process. The Integrity Management Toolbox (and the extended version, referred to as InWASH) is used to drive a process of identification of priority risks and the tools to mitigate them. It includes tools to improve integrity across different areas, such as human resources, customer service, procurement, governance, and financial management.
The Integrity Management Toolbox has already been used by water and sanitation operators across the globe serving over 4 million users.
Priorities for integrity action for sanitation and water providers
There are many ways for operators to advance integrity. And every step counts. TAPA, short for Transparency, Accountability, Participation, and Anti-Corruption, is helpful in framing the key elements for integrity.
Transparency: Ensure users and staff know their rights, see how decisions are taken and money is spent.
Accountability: Clarify responsibilities, give space to complaints and discussion, ensuring stakeholders uphold mandates.
Participation: Engage with the people affected by your decisions.
Anti-corruption: Play by the rules, leave no space for corruption or impunity.
In addition to internal governance and management risks, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2021 highlights specific integrity risks that require attention from urban service providers. Addressing these risks can play a major role in driving change and supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6.
Case studies: water operators in Latin America lead with integrity and see results in customer satisfaction
Several sanitation and water operators across Latin America are successfully using integrity assessment and management tools. They shared their experiences at the Stockholm World Water Week 2021 (see full video of their interventions here).
Like many sanitation and water operators we work with, these leaders are using integrity as a cross-cutting management principle to improve service and build resilience and effectiveness.
An integrity change management process like the one they have all initiated, usually starts with an integrity assessment followed by training and awareness raising, internally and for users. Most of these operators have already seen efficiency gains and are particularly positive about the impact of customer engagement measures and efforts to open service and management data.
Water Operator: SEDAPAL
Location: Lima, Peru
Population served: 11.512. 594
Representative: María del Pilar Acha, General Secretary
“With WIN and support from IADB, we worked on mapping integrity risks to mitigate acts of corruption in procurement, clandestine connections, and abuses in water billing. We also created the Office of Regulatory Compliance and Institutional Integrity.
Both, paying customers and users who have received free water during the pandemic have access to complaint mechanisms and can provide comments. We’ve made a clear commitment to transparency and included this in our KPIs and monitoring via Aquarating.”
Water Operator: CEA
Location: Queretaro, Mexico
Population served: 1.920.539
Representative: José Luis de la Vega, Head of the Transparency Unit
“We see integrity as a way of acting in all administrative and operational processes. We see transparent management, accountability and participation as fundamental elements to mitigate acts of corruption and embezzlement. We put this into practice by creating a results-based budget, implementing institutional internal control, and directly engaging with the public via a portal for communities.
The Integrity Management Tool made it easier for us to assess the effectiveness of practices we have been applying such as a code of conduct.”
Water Operator: AySA
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Population served: 14.441.422
Representative: Marcelo Rogora, Director of Integrity and Best Practices
“The integrity consortium (WIN, SIWI and cewas) has collaborated with us in identifying risks, monitoring and evaluating them. We developed an online tool (AySA DATA) which has four pillars: integrity and transparency, citizen participation, open data and digital transformation. With it, we seek to incorporate the citizens’ perspective in the management of the company and to adhere to accountability processes.
When we refer to integrity risks, we cannot only focus on internal mitigating processes; citizens are essential. They can make complaints, queries, suggestions and thus, serve as sources of risk identification.”
Overall, building water integrity into the values of an organisation can be transformative. It is a new way to identify and address root causes of recurring issues and to strengthen trust with users and funders. As such, it benefits sanitation and water operators. And, it benefits users, who receive better sanitation and water services, as is their human right.
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