Corruption Floats in Water Sector Worldwide

Where there is big public spending and no transparency, there is corruption. And while no public/private sector is safe from malfeasance, the ever-increasing demand for clean water opens the floodgate to covert practices in which billions of dollars leak into the coffers of individuals and private companies worldwide with little trickle effect.

Investment in the delivery of clean water is always viewed as a high priority, creating costly infrastructure projects like damns that are rife with opportunity for squander. The pain of this financial abuse is hardest felt in impoverished communities worldwide, where up to 30 per cent of funds allocated by international financing institutions (IFI) like the World Bank are dribbled away through corruption.

At World Water Week (WWW) this past week, Reporter Hannah Stoddard interviewed a panel consisting of private industry and non-profit sector activists. Amongst her guests were:

  • Teun Batermeijer, Manager of the Water Integrity Network (WIN),
  • Ramisetty Murali, Convenor for the Freshwater Action Network (FAN), and
  • Thomas van Waeyenberge, Representative, International Federation of Private Water Operators (Aquafed)

All three guests agree that while plans made at large governance discussions like the WWW are academically useful, they are separated from the practical reality of the practices on the ground.

Batermeijer and Murali urge the creation of greater transparency both through the protection of whistle blowers and increased local control. They call for the creation of institutionalized mechanisms of accountability and regulation to bare pressure upon the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for taking bribes.

The Federation of Private Water Operator’s van Waeyenberge said, “Corruption is a part of every discussion that we should be having.” He argued that while private industry is a part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. Private brokers are under constant pressure to root out corruption and as on the ground implementers of public policy, they could share their experiences on successful policies dealing with corrupt officials. However, van Waeyenberge balks at regulation and the consortium that he represents would prefer an independent regulatory body which may be less susceptible to fraudulent influence than a government run entity. He suggested that the various water stakeholders develop more trust with one another and forge an alliance against corrupt practices.

Murali and Batermeijer urge the international financing institutions (IFI) to monitor the water industry and make it more transparent and accountable so that journalists and activists can highlight inefficiencies and expose culpable parties, both public and private.

According to Murali, “Naming and Shaming” is easier when only one individual is involved; when it is a nexus of vested interests: politicians, bureaucrats, both ruling and opposing government parties, private sector companies and individuals, it is much more difficult and personally dangerous to ferret out the truth. Batermeijer also said that climate change will increase the need for regulation and oversight as demands become more acute.

Hannah Stoddart, reporter for the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) interviews a panel of water experts from both public and private sectors in this audio clip.

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