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Pumps and pipes aside, we need to finance a different kind of infrastructure

Focusing on civic and integrity infrastructure for more and better financing in the water and sanitation sectors

By Claire Grandadam and Kelly Acuña, Water Integrity Network

The Spring Meetings are concluding; Finance Ministers of Latin American and Caribbean countries are meeting today in Washington DC at the SWA FMM to share good practices and build partnerships for water and sanitation sector finance. This is a big opportunity to rethink funding to the sector.

The moment to prioritize water and sanitation is now”, enjoins Catarina de Albuquerque. The moment to priories the needs of the poor or left behind, and to prioritise investments in systems for long-term financial sustainability is also now. Civic and integrity infrastructure is a crucial part of this system. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it needs urgent attention.


Action, Ambition, Accountability – the call of civil society

Along with civil society leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean, we call for Action, Ambition and Accountability in defining national financing strategy and commitments for the water and sanitation sector.

Because we are who we are, we also call for an extra A, that of Anti-corruption. To ensure funds are not wasted to corruption, we need strong safeguards, for example to limit conflicts of interest and protect whistle-blowers. We have essential services to deliver; corruption is too expensive, and it is holding us back.

As the SWA civil society constituency highlights, there are essentially two paths forward for sector financing:

  1. Within all funding, existing and new, specific attention must be paid to provisions for vulnerable populations. Complying with our human rights obligations and responsibilities is a crucial element of integrity.

  2. We must improve sector efficiency and integrity, to free up funds lost to corruption and mismanagement, to reallocate available resources more equitably (also towards technologies and systems of delivery that benefit low-income residents), and to open avenues for new finance.

For this second path to work, we need better data and information on financing challenges, and on public financial management in particular. Fortunately, there is a lot we can learn from and collaborate on with open government, anti-corruption, public finance, and integrity partners in Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond.


Strengthening multi-stakeholder action for transparency that works for the water and sanitation sectors

We are currently putting the finishing touches on the next Water Integrity Global Outlook, which focuses on water and sanitation finance integrity. A key message emerging is that by building alliances with anti-corruption, integrity, and public finance institutions and organisations, water sector actors can give a boost to sector financial systems. Research is still ongoing, but we can already see that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, there are significant opportunities. Time to make new friends.

From data...

Latin America distinguishes itself as a pioneer in participatory budgeting and key player in open government. There are movers in the region, a good number of planned national and local open government commitments for fiscal transparency (like those made through the Open Government Partnership), and open procurement initiatives that are making a difference for infrastructure and other sectors. Overall, there are relatively high levels of available government data.

It’s true, there is still room for major improvement and these big trends hide a lot of variation across the region. The Global Data Barometer of 2022 also notes limited evolution in data availability or openness in last years. But there is a non-negligible basis of good practices, data, and invested partners to work with in understanding financial management challenges across the region. information

The picture is a little more cloudy when we drill down to examine how this plays out at sector level and for different public financial management processes. Here again however, there are partners who have important insight:


The need to support participation, accountability, and integrity

This weakness in participation, and the difficulty of using data effectively as information to adapt sector strategies, is the where the big challenge lies.

Participatory budgeting can be highly local and may be quite common, but across the region and across the budget process, public participation is still actually quite low. In a similar vein, the Global Data Barometer highlights the region’s relative weakness in capacity to govern open data and use it for impact.

This challenge is compounded by limits on civic space. Of particular concern in the region, is intimidation and harassment of journalists and water and environment defenders.

This is why we are calling on the finance ministers, the funders and the other decision makers gathering in Washington today, to focus on another urgently needed investment: an investment in the civic and integrity infrastructure of the region.

This infrastructure is the participatory processes and the people, the organisations, the media, the compliance and oversight institutions who keep track of money, use and analyse data, hold decision makers accountable, and can strengthen all planning processes, to make sure money is allocated where it is needed, and spent as it is intended. Investing in civic infrastructure is also recognising and funding community organisations for the work they do to reach vulnerable populations. It is a necessary investment, that pays for itself.

1 Comment

By shifting the focus from physical structures like pumps and pipes to the essential components of governance, transparency, and accountability, the article highlights the significance of building a solid foundation for sustainable financing.

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