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4 countries, 4 cases for water integrity

Integrity still does not get the attention it needs, yet lack of integrity imposes a serious burden on the functioning of societies and, in our case, the water sector.

When we discuss integrity, the first question which comes up, of course, is What do we mean by integrity? You all have some idea of this – sharper or vaguer, narrower or broader. When we at the Water Integrity Network talk about integrity, however, we talk about the integrity of people when they are making decisions on water management and the integrity of the decision-making process.

Integrity means that people and organisations act in the best interest of the people that they are serving, that they can be held accountable for that, that stakeholders are heard when decisions are made, and that outcomes are fair and sustainable. This may sound pretty much normal to you, and a situation that you would expect. Unfortunately, we all know that often it is not the reality.

Lack of integrity results in waste of resources, rigged decisions, and often outright corruption. This can take many forms. We see embezzlement of funds at various levels, directly reducing the resources available for their purpose. We see investments being made in the wrong place because someone pays to have them there for personal benefit rather than where it is most needed. We see building with sub-standard materials. We see investments in construction and no subsequent maintenance. So much for sustainability. Again: it is known. Often people try to do something about it. Too often they do not.

I will share some concrete examples — cases that we have documented in the Water Integrity Global Outlook, a report that we will publish in December of this year. These examples show both what can go wrong but also what has been done to promote integrity and reduce various forms of malpractice and illicit behaviour.

I will start with an example from the city where I currently live, Germany’s capital Berlin.

Germany & the case for civic action

Berlin’s water utility (BWB) provides drinking water and sewage services to almost 4 million people. In 1999, despite strong opposition, the Berlin city-state government decided to privatize a 49.9 per cent share of the utility. Details of the 30-year, €1.7 billion contract were kept completely secret.

A number of civil society organisations in Germany criticized the deal, claiming that it was a guarantee of high profits for shareholders at the cost of a strong increase in water prices for consumers. Only after they were able to organize a successful campaign for a referendum to return the water utility to public hands, did the citizen’s alliance, Berliner Wassertisch (‘water table’) succeed in reversing the privatization decision. In the referendum, they won a 98 per cent majority. However, despite this apparent level of public support, it took them more than a decade to get there.

As a further result, contracts and documents about the purchase negotiations dating back 12 years were made public. In 2012, the German anti-trust office declared the contract to be in breach of competition law and demanded a water price cut of 19 per cent. An investigation was started to determine whether the sale also breached EU law on state aid to private companies.

The Berlin case demonstrates the dangers of lack of transparency and exclusion of civil society from negotiations, through agreement on ‘confidential’ contracts for public works, manipulation of legal processes, and one-sided advantages for corporations at the expense of the public interest. However, it also demonstrates how sustained advocacy, public participation, and civil action for greater integrity can lead to success.

Bangladesh & the case for community research

Climate change and sea level rise are major risks for Bangladesh as a low-lying delta state. Understandably, the Bangladeshi government has created several multimillion-dollar funds to cope with these risks. But in a country where corruption is endemic, large funds obviously do not only attract the attention of those who use them for their intended purpose but also of those who see it as an opportunity for illegally generating private income.

Wary of the quality of governance in the water sector, Transparency International Bangladesh decided to do an assessment of climate finance governance for 2011-2013. To this end, they developed a dedicated tool, the National Climate Finance: Governance Risk Assessment Toolkit. Through this toolkit, they:

  • mapped and assessed of key actors in climate finance governance;

  • tracked the implementation of climate fund projects.

To track project implementation, project areas were visited and local communities were interviewed. Illicit practices which they encountered included:

  • inflation of budgets, with budgets for instance 40 per cent higher than the final bid costs;

  • violation of public procurement rules such as allowing sub-leases to staff of the procuring organisation;

  • disbursement of funds without significant progress in works; and

  • embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars.

In reaction to the findings, the Funds considered were forced to reassess a portfolio of more than 3 million dollars of water-related climate projects. And please bear in mind that these funds are meant to protect the Bangladeshi people from disasters like typhoons and floods. We say sometimes that “corruption kills”. This kind of case makes the point.

India & the case for multi-stakeholder dialogue

In India, in the early 1980s, the Waghad irrigation scheme was set up in Maharashtra and the Waghad dam was built. However, soon after, the scheme fell into dysfunction. To get an allocation of water, farmers had to bribe irrigation officials. On the other hand, farmers also simply tried to steal water from the system. Maintenance and performance were poor. It resulted in a situation in which there was a total lack of trust and respect between authorities and farmers.

In 1991, local NGOs started to work on rectifying this situation, particularly by setting up and supporting water user associations. It was a long journey — about 15 years —but highly successful in the end. It resulted in an overall project-level users association that was tasked with the management of the scheme.

Ultimately, they were able to fully recover its costs. Bringing together farmers and officials in dialogue, engaging in capacity building, and, in particular, building trust between key actors — these were all key components that led to success.

Concrete steps taken along the way included:

  • creating consensus on water allocation rules;

  • robust monitoring and enforcement arrangements;

  • theft deterrence mechanisms;

  • a de-politicized and fair voting process;

  • sound financial management.

Now, farmers are involved in both decision-making and operation and maintenance. Average income rose approximately 50 times over the last 20 years.

Burkina Faso & the case for integrity-led governance

Fortunately, there are more and more cases, in which integrity risks are addressed early on.

In Burkina Faso, the National Office for Water and Sanitation, ONEA, in close cooperation with its donors, took on managing integrity risks from the start when the Ziga Dam was developed at the beginning of this century, a $300 million project. This was addressed fundamentally by:

  • establishing a completely new unit to manage the project;

  • putting in place a range of proactive measures for both procurement and construction phases;

  • setting strict procurement rules; and

  • welcoming external international monitoring to safeguard compliance for finances as well as technical progress.

All of these measures served both to prevent corruption and to ensure the timely and quality construction of the dam. What the Ziga Dam project shows is that we know how things should be done and that it can be done … if there is sufficient leadership to make it so.

Water integrity global outlook

As I mentioned in the beginning, the Water Integrity Network together with its partners Transparency International, Cap-Net, SIWI, IWMI, UNESCO-IHE, GIZ, and GWP will soon publish the Water Integrity Global Outlook (WIGO).

Much more comprehensively than I summarized above, WIGO describes what we are learning about enhancing water integrity. Here are a few key learning points:

Firstly, it is clear that ensuring integrity is essential for the effective and efficient use of resources.

To make that happen, open, public accountability is key. There needs to be external scrutiny of processes. Scrutiny by stakeholders means accountability to stakeholders.

Of course, this doesn’t happen by itself. Leadership is needed to make it happen. This can be leadership from the top. It is there, sometimes, and even faster, but unfortunately, too often it is lacking. But it can also come from the bottom, as we recognize in the cases I described above. Leadership from civil society, but sometimes also from managers and professionals in the sector.

Public accountability requires empowerment and capacity building of both citizens and officials and professionals.

More practically speaking: we must act early. Prevention is much more efficient than later correction.

And finally, taking responsibility and acting responsibly lies at the basis of it all. Taking responsibility at the top level, or as a civil society leader, to generate change. But also for every individual to say No, I am not going to pay a bribe. I am not going to solicit or accept a bribe.

Without ensuring integrity in public management, a few people win but the whole society loses out. I look forward to the continued discussion and to our success.

The statement above was first presented at Stockholm World Water Week in August 2015. Click here to learn more about the water integrity presentations of #SWWW15.


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