Friday, June 14, 2013

Dealing with corruption in the water and sanitation sector – WIN leads the charge


H. E. Betty Bigombe, Teun Bastemeijer and Ulysses Ocran Hammond
Though corruption and the issue of integrity in institutions and among individuals have existed over the years, they have often been spoken of with muffled voices.

While people are quick to admit in private that corruption pervades the air, those same people are unwilling to publicly admit that it is an issue that seriously hampers the delivery of services and when in public speak about it with a hush.

The reason is that many see it as a very sensitive and delicate issue to be spoken of in public, lest one loses favour with the powers that be or is blacklisted in the award of contracts or be branded as cowards, not being smart, anti-social and ‘enemies of progress’.

So for the Water Integrity Network (WIN), a grouping of hundreds of organisations worldwide concerned about integrity issues in the delivery of water and sanitation services to organise the first ever Water Integrity Forum (WIF), must be seen as a very bold step.

The over 60 organisations and over 100 participants at the forum in Delft, The Netherlands from June 5, 2013 to June 7, 2013 minced no words in addressing the issue in seven work streams that tackled Water, Energy and Food; Water Resource Management in River Basins; Rural Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Integrated Urban Water Management; Tools to Diagnose and Access Integrity; Tools to Improve, Build and Improve Integrity and Processes to Scale Up Integrity.

In an interview with Teun Bastemeijer, Director, Water Integrity Network Secretariat (WIN-S), a wing of Transparency International (TI), he said the first ever Water Integrity Forum (WIF) was held based on a demand from partners of the Water Integrity Network (WIN) earlier on but which could not be held then because the partnership was made up of small NGOs which could not organise it then.

However, since then things have improved with partners such as UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and some individual consultants coming on board to make it a reality, he said.

Touching on the aim of the forum, the WIN-S director said it was meant to start taking stock of their work and also look at solutions that have been found to deal with issues from different sides, to come together to make different alliances to scale up with more organisations on the issue of integrity from different perspectives.

Water Integrity Network (WIN) is a mission that was started by some worried water professionals who in their day-to-day activities encounter the issue of corruption that hampers access to water and sanitation by either having to be part of it or circumvent it, he divulged.

According to Teun Bastemeijer, decision makers, grassroots organisations and international networks are needed to talk about change in attitudes, not as a crime, but as a phenomenon in such a way as to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in a sustainable and equitable way with a maximum of integrity. “So integrity is about honesty and honesty includes being clear [about] where the issues are,” he noted.

On what WIN-S seeks to do after the conference, he stated; “Next step is reconfirmation of adherence to the outcomes of the forum, to find partners that can help deal from the inside or from the outside in getting to the right sort of dialogue and diagnostic exercises in various countries that can be at the lower level and can also be at the national level – it can be about water basin, it can be about rural water supply sector, but somewhere you have to have a start depending on the country and the context, you have to make choices, and that I think is what will happen in the next steps.”

Making a good link to the human rights issue and other positive conventions or declarations might help to come to the right sort of discussions in countries, the WIN director said.

“We need to get decision makers and political people on board, including city mayors, including ministers. That is why we also have the AMCOW statement here made by the minister from Uganda. These are things that help a lot but on the other hand we cannot get a lot further if we do not create evidence that we can actually do something,” he added.

On whether he had experienced any incidents of corruption in the WASH sector, Teun Bastemeijer, intimated that many years ago as a young man, he realised in a huge project in Tanzania “There was some kind of a corrupt deal between the lead consultant from Denmark in that particular case and the national engineers from the water authority, where they could take pipes.”

“Now, their excuse was about the cost of pipes and 30 per cent of the pipes had disappeared and my report on that was initially not accepted by the donor, because the report was too sensitive. That was pure corruption, but including the donor,” he added.

Responding to allegations of WIN’s soft approach to dealing with corruption in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, the director explained it is not very wise to take a tough approach, because “you will not be welcome in the country, you will not get any political leadership involved. So you can call it soft; there is also some level of diplomacy needed.”

He however added that in one-on-one discussions he has held with ministers and regulators among others, he has been very blunt on the issue of corruption, pointing out that even among journalists there have always been instances of corruption when reports have been made to favour others.

“The donors supporting us right now are the Germans, the Swedes, the Dutch and the Swiss and they are very genuine in these things and they do not accept corruption. Some of them actually signed our code of conduct and others have similar rules that they have introduced and they also call us to prove that we are not engaged in any corrupt action - Our donors are aware that this must be dealt with,” Bastemeijer said in response to allegations of corruption among some of WIN’s partners.

“We do not work with angels so we are happy to work with associations who are making efforts to improve, so it is not as if we are against the World Bank or the Asian development and what have you – no!,” he admitted.

He announced his joy of having banks such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) on board which has already conducted a study in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector on corruption.

Touching on how governments of different states, especially in Africa receive them (WIN) knowing they are an organisation fighting corruption, the WIN director intimated they sometimes through correspondence to ministers of state ask for meetings or get invited by embassies which are engaged in some work in the water sector in those countries and wish to talk about good governance.

“What does not work is to go there, and suddenly be there and say here I am and I want to see you and can we talk corruption,” he stated.    

In another interview with Her Excellency Betty Oyella Bigombe, Minister of State for Water, Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda, on the African perspective of integrity in the water sector, she stated: “Political will is paramount – it is really what anchors it. If you do not have political will it is very difficult.

The minister however said it was difficult for her to answer if African governments have political will or not. “That is a difficult question – I cannot accuse other people,” she said.

On what she was taking back to her colleagues in Africa from the forum, Betty Bigombe said: “What I have learnt is that it is not just government – Honesty - somebody talked about it yesterday – It is important. But the other thing too, for instance when you have big projects coming up, and you have companies from the Western world coming in, they still bribe, so it takes two to tango. Procurement is where things go wrong and that is where you have a lot of hurdles and therefore procurement within that procurement process – It is very important that we have people with a bit of integrity.”

On the role of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), the Ugandan Minister stated; “In principle in AMCOW, we have agreed on all this – what we should do, but the problem too, is that – I talked about political will - if you want to fight corruption you must have a budget that shows commitment. You must have the human resources or turn to the donor community, development partners to see if they can provide both.”

Admitting that AMCOW does not have a peer review mechanism in place, Betty Bigombe opined that the council’s secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria could commission a study into such mechanism then convene a meeting to discuss some of these issues.

Confessing also that currently AMCOW does not have in place a system for dealing with corruption in the sector by member countries, she added that having been so inspired by the forum she was going to suggest it is included in the agenda of the council’s next meeting.

She acknowledged too, that it will take strong leadership to ensure commitments signed by African governments at international fora are followed through, saying it will be better to have one strong African country lead the process that all others will follow, than leaving each country to do its own thing.

The foundation is service delivery, the Ugandan Minister said, in response to a question on what motivated her country to go on to become a model for Africa in water and sanitation service delivery.
She intimated that although so much has been pumped into the water and sanitation sector despite the other challenges the country has, they realised they needed a more proactive approach if they were to meet their millennium development goal targets.

H.E. Betty Bigombe disclosed further that in 2009, Uganda formed a forum for discussion on integrity and thereafter a study was commissioned to see how it can be combated throughout all the country’s districts.

She indicated that when they realised dealing with just the headquarters was not effective in dealing with what was going on, the idea was born of decentralisation.

Uganda has also formed a sector working group comprising government officials, civil society organisations, the private sector and development partners, she intimated.

Betty Bigombe said: “This is very important in the sense that it is critical that to be able to enhance integrity or to fight corruption you have to have a multi stakeholders’ forum, so that they stop trading accusations against one another.”

While indicating at such forum all stakeholders including development partners may admit their challenges and work on their weaknesses to enhance integrity, she said: “But on the other hand too, sometimes the sector may not control or have power over the procurement process. It might not have power or control over the auditor general’s query of what it is exactly on.”

The other thing we have in Uganda is, the judiciary, the attorney general’s office, solicitor general actually has to give no objection for any memorandum of understanding for any contract,” she indicated.

“Now at the same time we do not have control over the judiciary, so we need to be of partnership within the government system itself to fight corruption, so that the procurement team is talking with the sector people, so that the judiciary is talking with the sector people, because in all this there is a lot of manipulation, she stated.

Touching on corruption at the lower level, H.E. Bigombe referred to illegal connection of utility services where someone has not paid his/her bill but pays probably an equivalent of US$10 to someone who works at the utility service and gets connected, saying because this cannot be detected immediately, the loss is attributed to leakage.

“So all this needs strong partnerships to work together with everybody so that it can be enhanced,” she stressed.

“In our case as far as human resources is concerned we received support from Water Integrity Network, we’ve also received support from GIZ, where expatriates have been brought in to help us monitor the process, to conduct a study, which study has then helped us [with] this discussion.

Later in a chat with Ulysses Ocran Hammond, Environmental Management Plan Coordinator for the Volta Dam in Ghana, he stated that the forum was very significant because Ghana as a member of the International Hydropower Association (IHA) has subscribed to a protocol, which is an agreement that IHA has come up with that encompasses all the issues associated with dam construction, right from feasibility studies, construction and operational phases.

It is a kind of index to measure one’s performance in the planning of a hydropower project, whether there has been enough public consultation, due diligence regarding the environment among others, all of which helps in situating projects very well, he said.

According to Ulysses Ocran, there are some parameters in the protocol, which will help eliminate suspicion of biases, suspicion of issues about integrity and whether due processes have been followed.

“For hydropower projects, one of the key issues are displacement of people, so if you do not have enough consultation, enough deliberations with the people who are going to be directly impacted by the project, both upstream and downstream, it gives cause for the people who are going to be displaced to feel that something has gone really very wrong in the implementation – even in the siting of the project,” he said.

“But when you subject yourself to a protocol like this, where one of the criteria is public disclosure…then it tends to eliminate the thinking or the fear of the people that this is a government project and irrespective of what we feel, maybe government has been compromised in a way to do this project at the expense of our livelihoods,” Ulysses Ocran stated further.

“Integrity issues do not only border on money. You can decide to situate a hydropower project at a place where the impact will be so significant but for certain reasons you might want to situate the project there at the expense of the environment and people going to be displaced and all that –you cannot actually quantify whether money has changed hands and all that but it is someone’s decision to make sure this is done and when you go to the protocol it eliminates all these things,” he submitted.  

For her part, Aziza Akhmouch, Lead, Water Governance Programme, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), stated when delivering a keynote address during the opening of the forum that the sector is highly fragmented, while fragmented responsibilities pave the way for corruption.

Reiterating that fragile institutions allow corruption, she indicated that corruption is also an issue for rich OECD countries.

She spoke on the topic, “The importance of governance in the water sector and the need to bring in an integrity and transparency perspective in the post 2015 agenda”.

Christian Poortman, Senior Advisor, Transparency International who also delivered a keynote address titled “Main trends and findings, corruption and integrity”, asserted that there remain many challenges to bring integrity to the water sector, but hoped the forum will bring out commitments from all partners.

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