Photo: World Bank

Corruption keeps people thirsty. It damages drinking supplies and sanitation and makes water inaccessible and unaffordable. Because dirty water can be deadly, cleaning up the water sector is a matter of life and death. Below is some advice for what donors can do to help prevent corruption in water management.

White elephants

Very large water infrastructure projects carry big corruption risks. The potential for illicit moneymaking can be so significant as to skew policy-making. Close consideration should thus be given as to why large-scale investments are prioritised by the government, and who is involved in the political approval process. Further steps that can be taken include signing integrity pacts, binding agreements between a procurement agency (usually governmental) and bidders for contracts and that aim to reduce the chances of corrupt practices during procurement.  Integrity pacts enable companies to abstain from bribing by assuring them that their competitors will also refrain. (See U4 publication Grand designs: Corruption risks in major water infrastructure projects)

User fees

In Tanzania and Uganda, 15% of respondents said they had had a utilities-related corruption experience in the past year in a 2014 survey. The collection of fees in relation to management of water at the user level can create a fertile environment for bribery. 

Problems are exacerbated by low levels of consumer awareness about charges. Transparency to water consumers should therefore be encouraged, for instance through standardised consumer fees and information about user rights. Civil society can be strengthened to spread this information through support to consumer organisations, NGOs, and media. Strengthening complaint systems is also a useful way to shed light on corruption and get early warning signs, which may indicate whether petty corruption is occurring. (See U4 publication Not so petty: Corruption risks in payment and licensing systems for water)

Sectoral approaches

Mainstreaming anti-corruption means integrating an anti-corruption perspective into all activities and levels of a sector. Anti-corruption needs to be mainstreamed into human resources, regulatory, and performance management systems, tools, and practices. Leadership for mainstreaming reforms should come from ministries with intersectoral mandates or through collaboration between different ministries. (See U4 publication Mainstreaming anti-corruption initiatives: Development of a water sector strategy in Mozambique)

Local accountability

Incorporation of water users in the operation of water management bodies seems, in some cases, to have reinforced local accountability where communal relations were already good. In other cases, water user associations have however served to reinforce the advantages of local elites and privileged groups. A political economy analysis to guide water sector programming is likely to produce more context-specific approaches. (See U4 publication Leaking projects: Corruption and local water in Kyrgyzstan)

Additional resources