Read aguanomics http://www.aguanomics.com/ for the world’s best analysis of the politics and economics of water Back in 2008, Transparency International highlighted the depth and impact of corruption on operations in the water sector. In this post on that report, I wrote:
To understand why water provision is especially vulnerable to corruption, consider this “equation”:
Corruption = monopoly + discretion – accountability.
Thus, you see why I spend so much time on this blog discussing the troubles with monopolies, asymmetric information (water managers know more than us), and community oversight of water agencies.
Those problems have not gone away,* so I was interested to see the update on that report, the Water Integrity Global Outlook (WIGO) that the Water Integrity Network (a spinoff of TI) published on World Water Day this year.
This edition was disappointing, as it seemed to put far more weight on managed, bureaucratic “solutions” than creative, community control. Consider their recommendations:
Chapter 1: A Global Mandate for Water Integrity
Chapter 2: How Policies and Laws Can Support Water Integrity
Chapter 3: Following the Money
Chapter 4: From Planning to Implementation
Chapter 5: How to Enhance Integrity: Strategies, Tools and Approaches
Chapter 6: What Counts? Monitoring and Evaluation
A charitable reader might interpret “stakeholder,” “fair,” “participation,” and other mom-and-apple-pie words as providing an appropriate plan to tackling corruption in the water sector, but I am more critical. Take “develop and enforce water policies… in accordance with the obligations of the human rights to water and sanitation.” I’ve done some research on that topic [paper, shorter version] and come to the conclusion that it’s really hard to enforce human rights to water when the enforcement authority is itself corrupt. Rather than conclude with wishful thinking (“developed policies will be enforced”), I thought of ways for the poor to benefit from competition for their water (via property rights) or money (via new vendors).
The discussion of competition and markets in the WIGO report is, sadly, mostly about the problems with such mechanisms rather than how they improve incentives in response to customer (not stakeholder) demands. This WIGO report, therefore, misses a major tool for improving water management (customer power) at the same time as it recommends a tried-and-often-failed “solution” of omniscient direction by some magical stakeholder-driven-bureaucratic process.
Bottom Line: I give this report FOUR STARS for its review of issues related to corruption in the water sector, but recommend that readers bring a skeptical eye to some of its empty recommendations. Instead think of escapes for those suffering from corruption, neglect and incompetence. Escape can occur via cooperative water users associations, citizen-regulators, competition for the right to deliver water, or anything else that works. We know how to combine money and technology to bring safe water to anyone’s tap. Now we need to hold managers accountable for failure to execute.