Nelly Bassily | November 1, 2010
(adapted from forthcoming Issue pack on water integrity)
Corruption in the water sector places the lives and livelihoods of billions of people worldwide at significant risk. The water sector is facing a severe crisis, made worse by corruption. Approximately 20 per cent of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) do not have access to clean water. More than 40 per cent (2.6 billion people) are without adequate sanitation. Corruption contributes to this problem. In developing countries, approximately 80 per cent of health problems can be linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation, claiming the lives of 1.8 million children every year. One study estimates that if African water utilities functioned in an environment free of corruption, their costs would be reduced by almost two-thirds.
Water integrity means that individuals and groups in the water sector behave in accordance with moral principles and standards. The principles, standards and the behaviours consistent with them create a preventive barrier to corruption.
Corruption thrives in situations which provide a large enough incentive to make it profitable. Regardless of who is involved, people engage in corrupt behaviour because of need, greed, or opportunity. For poor water consumers, corrupt behaviour may be driven simply by the need for water. Poorly paid workers may seek ways to supplement their income. Middle managers may take advantage of the many opportunities available to them to profit from corrupt behaviour. Politicians, senior managers and directors may be driven by greed.
Corruption in the water sector can have various negative impacts. Because it is found in many economic activities, including agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, corruption inflates the cost of supplying or treating water for all these activities. This has a financial impact on business activities, and increased costs may be passed on to consumers. Corruption can have negative environmental and health impacts. Overuse and pollution of water directly harms human and animal health. It also contributes to degradation of wetlands and other ecosystems, with consequences for human livelihoods and wildlife habitat. Social impacts of corruption can be caused by those who control access to water using their power to favour specific ethnic groups or particular businesses, to the detriment of others.
Irrigation systems can be very important to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Yet they are often prone to corruption. For example, businesses that design, build and operate irrigation systems may be tempted to bribe system officials. Groups or individuals may lobby governments to pay for projects that do not provide benefits to rural communities at large, but instead provide subsidies to landowners. Corruption may happen at the construction stage, with favoured contractors always winning contracts. It is easy to include bribes, or overcharge, within estimates for work. Corruption can also happen at maintenance and operation stages if systems are not transparent or carefully monitored.
One way to understand and research the different kinds of corrupt practices is to classify them into interactions which are public/public, public/private sector, and public/consumer or civil society.
Corrupt actions in the public/public sphere include:
- Agreements between national and district government officials that influence the location and type of projects invested in;
- Collusion between donors and governments which results in poor quality work or time overruns;
- Administrative corruption, such as falsification of documents, fraud, and silence payments.
Corrupt actions in the public/private sector area include:
- Officials waiving legal restrictions in exchange for funds from companies;
- Private companies bribing officials to influence budgeting decisions;
- Companies bribing officials to distort the bidding process, falsify documents, or inflate expenses;
- Companies bribing officials to ignore cases in which structures are not built to standard.
Finally, corrupt actions in the public/consumer or civil society sphere may include:
- Local elites bribing officials in exchange for preferential treatment, for example by locating pumps and tanks in locations that benefit elites,
- Local people benefiting from overbilling and fraudulent meter readings.
For definitions of many of the terms used by the anti-corruption movement, refer to The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide from Transparency International. It is available for download at: http://www.transparency.org/publications/publications/other/plain_language_guide.
For further information about water integrity, good water management initiatives and fighting corruption in general, here are some websites to refer to:
Water Integrity Network:http://www.waterintegritynetwork.net/
Stockholm Water Institute: http://www.siwi.org/
Global Water Partnership (GWP): http://www.gwpforum.org/
Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/
Water and Sanitation Program (WSP): http://www.wsp.org/index.cfm?page=page_disp&pid=1502
A very recent initiative using participatory video to fight corruption is described, with video, here: http://blog.transparency.org/2010/10/07/handing-the-camera-to-the-people/.
Information Portal on Corruption in Africa http://www.ipocafrica.org/index.php
Global Integrity http://www.globalintegrity.org/
Short videos can be viewed at:
Water Integrity YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/waterintegrity
Transparency International YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/user/TransparencyIntl
There are many ways to create radio programming on corruption in the water sector. Here are a few:
- Interview an expert on corruption in the water sector from a national or international organization that works on corruption issues. Questions to ask include:
¨ Can you provide any examples of corruption in the water sector in this country/region?
¨ What are some of the ways that corruption in the water sector can be prevented?
¨ What can users of water systems do when they believe they are being cheated, or when they believe more generally that there is corruption or unfairness in the water system?
- Interview members of nearby (or distant) communities that have successfully addressed corruption issues in the water sector. Follow up with a call-in or text-in program which considers whether these solutions would work for your community.
- Produce a call-in or text-in program. Invite an expert from a national or international organization that works on corruption issues, and invite callers to call or text questions about corruption in water systems.
- Host or chair a roundtable discussion on corruption problems in the water sector in your community. Invite representatives from various groups: civic and traditional leaders, leaders of women’s groups, water users, utility officials, government spokespersons, NGO representatives, and concerned citizens.