Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Fighting corruption with the Water TAP plus A

Among the highlights of yesterday’s seminar on ‘Benchmarking Governance of Private and Public Utilities in Urban Settings’ were the presentations on the experiences of public water companies from Kenya. Mharuku Vyakweli of Nairobi Water Company and Mosses Kenya of MONBASA Water and Sanitation Company in Kisumu presented the efforts made to tackle corruption. Through benchmarking, water operators make performance information publicly available. Such information is key for users to increase the space to participate and hold water operators accountable, reducing the risk of corruption. The Kenyan speakers stressed that good governance is a pre-condition for efficient water provision.

‘Benchmarking’ may sound very technical and even boring. But it was very interesting to hear about the efforts of public water operators to increase transparency and tackle corruption, including benchmarking exercises, independent research on corruption, organizing workshops among stakeholders, meetings with local users’ committees, reporting to the city council, get recommendations from the anti-corruption committee etc, etc. The seminar convincingly made the case for the slogan “Water TAP plus A”: Transparency, Accountability, Participation and Anti-corruption in water management.

Least convincing I found the presentation by Alexandre Brailowsky from Suez Environment. Brailowsky mentioned that Suez as private water operator has an internal integrity, transparency and ethical code. I was quite surprised when he proudly presented that Suez made new one million connections in Buenos Aires and argued that communication with the users was a key for success. Suez had to leave Buenos Aires in 2006 when the public authorities decided to terminate the contract. I am sure if Suez had a good policy on transparency, this would not have happened. Private water management is generally very secretive. In Berlin, for instance, citizens were not allowed to see the privatization contract with Veolia, until civil society groups managed to force the private operator to disclose the contract via a referendum. In fact, I have my doubts about how private water operators could be made genuinely accountable and whether this is possible at all.