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Monitoring corruption to achieve the SDGs

The publication stresses the important role of civil society organizations in monitoring corruption. It also points to major limitations in how the official SDG monitoring mechanisms take into account corruption and advocates mainstreaming reporting on corruption across the SDGs.

Corruption is a factor limiting development processes and directly affecting how and if all the SDGs can be achieved, not only SDG16. It must therefore be taken into account across the board. To that end, the report provides guidelines to help identify potential indicators and data sources. Sample indicators are also provided for monitoring corruption for five key SDGs.

Having had the privilege of contributing to the report, I am sharing a few thoughts on the role monitoring of corruption and integrity plays in supporting the achievement of the SDGs, especially that of SDG 6: Ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all.

The importance of developing indicators to measure corruption for the SDGs

Corruption is a concealed act by definition: there is not enough reliable data and evidence on the depth of the problem and its impact. As a consequence it is often not possible to monitor, and consequently control, corruption through an evidence-based approach. It is also not always possible to know what really works in fighting corruption, and if any progress has been made.

But there are starting points. There are ways to gather reliable and actionable data to inform anti-corruption efforts. There are ways, to use better data, to raise awareness and develop the political will to effectively fight corruption.

We can’t afford to wait for the next corruption scandal to come to the spotlight to get a sense of how costly and destructive corruption turns out to be, and how much harder it is to make our efforts to achieve SDGs.

A sectoral focus on anti-corruption is required

The most ubiquitously cited corruption indicators are those that attempt to describe the problem at a national level. Such indicators can be useful to raise awareness and prompt governments to act. However, their usefulness is limited when it comes to guiding decision-making for anti-corruption efforts.

This is partly because many corruption risks tend to be sector-specific. For example, a major corruption risk area in the healthcare sector relates to financial contributions by pharmaceutical companies to medical research units to exercise undue influence.

In the water sector, customers can be extorted to pay a bribe to receive a water connection or speed up repair work. As general corruption indicators lack the granularity to reveal such vulnerabilities peculiar to sectors, we need tailored indicators to be able to monitor risks and ensure corruption does not jeopardize the efficacy of global investments.

Corruption indicators to monitor SDG 6

Weak governance, corruption, and lack of integrity directly threaten the fulfilment of the water SDG and by extension many of the other SDGs, as these are underpinned by water and sanitation issues.

There is a role for stakeholders, and civil society in particular, to support the development of an SDG monitoring framework that addresses these risks.

The water sector is particularly vulnerable to corruption, because of territorial and institutional fragmentation, the substantial funds involved in infrastructure projects, the marginalization of communities and local stakeholders, etc.

There are also corruption and integrity risks at all levels in the sector and throughout project implementation: from policy and framework conditions all the way to service delivery and consumer interface. Indicators have to be able to grasp this diversity and still inform practical decision-making. So what makes a good indicator? How does one choose?

The choice of sample indicators for SDG 6 for our report is partly driven by the availability of data, or at least the existence of experiences by various organizations in capturing data for the indicators.

For example, a few of the sample indicators in the resource guide refer to water integrity indicators developed by the Good Governance Working Group of the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment with support from WIN and GIZ. These indicators are now being used to monitor good governance in the water and sanitation sub-sector in the country and could be adapted and mainstreamed in other countries.

Other featured indicators have been tried and tested in multiple countries. For instance, data on non-revenue water is available and regularly updated for water utility companies in 133 countries.

When selecting indicators, it is also important to strike a balance between direct and indirect (proxy) indicators. Whereas direct indicators can help gauge the prevalence and costs of corruption (e.g. petty corruption in service delivery), proxy indicators (e.g. procurement risks, participation levels) help unbox insights where direct corruption measurement is not possible, which, as mentioned, is often the case.

Such bespoke indicators can point to red flags and possible enabling factors of corruption, and can thus be useful to guide anti-corruption interventions in the sector.

We at WIN have been stepping up our efforts to develop corruption and integrity indicators for the water sector and to produce data on such indicators. We support organizations working on corruption, integrity and governance assessments and look forward to cooperating with others to develop strong indicator frameworks. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch to work together.


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