AWARD: Ek Sonn Chan receives the Stockholm Industry Water Prize.
In one of my first posts, more than a year ago, I wrote about Ek Sonn Chan of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority. Municipal water supply in Cambodia is owned by the state, as in most other developing economies (i.e. for 95-98% of people with access to tap water in these countries).
I first came across Ek Sonn Chan’s name in 2011, when Nestlé received the Stockholm Industry Water Prize. He had been awarded the prize the year before (pictured). Knowing little at that stage about the story of Phnom Penh, I was curious and wanted to find out more. One of the points I read about was corruption in municipal water supply and how he eradicated it.
Was this an exception, or is this a more widespread problem in the sector of municipal water supply? A colleague of mine has been researching this issue, and the evidence she has found suggests corruption is indeed widespread, with a major impact on average water users. In some developing countries, according to Transparency International, the price of connection to a water network can be increased by 30-45% due to corruption. OECD (pdf document) identified many different forms: petty corruption associated with meter readings (e.g. falsifying these readings), repairs and expediting new connections, but also bribery and kickbacks in contracting.
The amounts involved in this kind of petty corruption may be small compared to other forms of extortion and bribery, but they are not small compared to the disposable incomes of those people forced to pay. A recently published report, the CMS-India Corruption Study (pdf document), shows that 14% of slum dwellers in India experienced corruption in their access to water in 2008. This figure increased rapidly to 50% by 2012, which makes water provision the third most corrupt public service in the country, only after the police and housing services.
At times, these problems go beyond municipal water supply. Transparency International (pdf document) found out, for instance, that in India, corruption makes irrigation contracts for mostly poor farmers about 25% more expensive.
India is mentioned twice here, but such problems are much more widespread. However, the information available on India and other countries is a positive sign for me; it shows that these problems are taken seriously there.
Damage from corruption can go beyond the annual invoice. In 2012, the journal ’Water Alternatives’ published a study that revealed a corruption case in a large-scale agricultural and livestock farming project in the Iringa area of Tanzania. The government leased out a 140,000 square metre plot of land to a company without following the correct legal process. As a result, nearby water sources serving some 45,000 people were contaminated, with families in the area facing the danger of being poisoned from polluted water. Without doubt, ending corruption is urgent and vital in these regions.
Corruption in the water sector particularly hurts the poor. This makes the fight against corruption in the water sector more urgent than ever.
Governments and the administrators of municipal water supply schemes should follow the example set by Ek Sonn Chan. He started within, setting up a commission for all levels of the organisation to deal with corruption. He knew that staff working in the water sector needed to be trained to carry out their jobs competently, and be paid beyond subsistence levels. He looked for political support, to strengthen not only water regulations and sanitation management, but also monitoring and oversight.
I am sure there are more such success stories to be shared and I look forward to your comments on this important issue.