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What is Water Integrity and Corruption?

Water integrity includes, but extends beyond, control of corruption – i.e., the misuse of entrusted power for private gain (Transparency International, 2022). Water integrity is the use of vested powers and resources honestly and accountably for sustainable and just water resources management and water and sanitation services. Water integrity requires that, in addition to addressing corruption, actors in the sector adhere to the principles of transparency, accountability and participation in order to achieve equitable, pro-poor, and inclusive decision-making. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to eliminate fraud and corruption in water resources management. All actors in the sector must act in a way that protects the rights of the most vulnerable, marginalised or otherwise discriminated to water for domestic and productive use, and to decent sanitation and hygiene services, regardless of who they are and where they live.

The Water Integrity Network (WIN) estimates that at least 10% of water sector investments are lost to corruption, representing approximately US$75 billion annually that is being siphoned off from water projects and programmes (WIN 2016). Beyond the economic loss, poor integrity tarnishes the reputation and creditworthiness of water sector organisations. As such, organisations operating in the water sector have cost-saving and reputation incentives to fight corruption and build water integrity. By implementing the integrity practices, water institutions could save money which could then be invested in achieving more customer satisfaction by scaling up the reach and quality of water supply services (Tools B2). Strengthening water integrity thus is a win-win situation insofar reducing corruption can help governments and water-related organisations not only save money but also ultimately build efficiency in managing water resources (Tools C6).

Principles for Building Water Integrity: TAP-A Integrity Wall

Building water integrity requires taking a preventive and multi-pronged approach. Investigations and sanctioning are reactive mechanisms that are part of the solution for fighting corruption (Tools B1.01). That said, investigations and sanctions should only be considered the last steps in the fight against corruption, and they come at a price, as they can further tarnish the reputation of any organisation. Moreover, the multi-level and decentralised nature of the water sector means that building water integrity should be mainstreamed across the water governance system. As such, the TAP-A principles (transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption) must be embedded not only in Policies (Tools A1) and Legal Frameworks (Tools A2) but also as part of Institutional Arrangements (Tools B), Investment Principles (Tools D1), and Financing Mechanisms (Tools D2).    

The TAP-A Integrity Wall is a framework that can help enhance integrity in the water sector (Fig. 1). Enhancing transparency refers to disclosing information from all water management organisations which is then the basis for holding the involved parties accountable. Monitoring the performance of the institutions involved in the water sector, in addition to, revealing and identifying corruption actors are ways to increase accountability. Enlarging and intensifying stakeholder participation enriches the understanding and knowledge of involved stakeholders, two important contributing factors to building institutional trust. Strengthening oversight and law enforcement as well as speaking out about corruption and protecting whistle-blowers helps to fight corruption.  The integrity wall based on TAP-A mechanism ensures integrity and reduce corruption at different levels.

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Figure 1. Pillars of Integrity Wall (Water Integrity Global Outlook 2016).

Selected Tools and References for Water Integrity

The WIN, a network of organisations and individuals promoting water integrity to reduce corruption, provides a set of Assessment and Action Tools that can be tailored to different management models and processes and can easily be adapted to different countries and contexts.

  1. The Annotated Water Integrity Scan (AWIS) is an important assessment tool that is designed to evaluate the integrity situation in the water sector of an institution. The AWIS is conducted through a one-day multi-stakeholder workshop which focuses on the pillars of the integrity assessing for five major risk areas: policy and legislation, regulation, investment projects and programmers, service provisions and anti-corruption framework. The scores for each risk area are complemented and annotations provides a basis for prioritization of water integrity.
  2. WIN has additionally developed an Integrity Management Toolbox for Water Sector Organisation. This tool aims to improve the internal systematic management processes as well as to reduce the reputational and legal risk related to integrity issues for public and private utilities. It includes a three-step method during which concerned stakeholders assess integrity risk and develop a roadmap to mitigate them under the guidance of a professional facilitator. First step is the preparation phase where management sets overall objectives, defines priorities, and allocates resources. In the second step, a one to three-day long participatory workshop is conducted to assess the concrete integrity risks of an organisation and suggests relevant mitigation options. The last step is the implementation phase where the agreed road map of the integrity tools is implemented and monitored frequently.
  3. The Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems enables people to operate small and community-managed water supply system better as well as ensure compliance to the national and local laws, rules and standard. It is a long-term process including three major steps i.e., preparation phase where the stakeholders of a community groups come together to familiarize themselves with the context. Integrity workshop, second step- where they identify integrity issues and prepare the action plan. At last, implementation phase where the facilitator monitors and evaluates the proper implementation of action plans in the field.
  4. The Water and Sanitation Sector Integrity Risk Index (WIRI) is a composite index, which is constructed by applying big data analytics to administrative data and survey datasets to enhance understanding of local governments and sectoral decision-makers on corruption risks. WIRI offers insight across the three main integrity hotspots in the water and sanitation sectors: public investment projects, recurrent spending supporting ongoing operations and client-service provider interactions. WIRI provides a comparison on corruption risks in terms of both spatial and temporal variation, helping to track progress, monitor and support CSO and stakeholders to advocate for better services. 
Water integrity and anti-corruption
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