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Journalists highlight other forms of corruption that undermine efforts to improve water access in Africa

The looting of funds allocated to water infrastructures, overbilling or improper invoicing, fraud in public procurements are what people immediately think of when they are asked to pinpoint corruption aspects that undermine the success of water projects in developing countries. Bribes to falsify meter reading, clandestine connections to water pipes set up by ‘water mafia’ are often overlooked, yet they result in high water prices for impoverished populations.

Water Integrity Network (WIN) Panel. Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi.
Water Integrity Network (WIN) Panel. Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi.
“If we are serious about winning the water war in developing countries, then we need to address the spectre of corruption within the water industry and investigative journalism can help shine a spotlight on the issue and promote water integrity.”

Jacobo Gamba from the Water Integrity Network (WIN) made the above statement on 24th August, 2015 during the World Water Week, a few minutes before the opening of the panel ‘Unfolding the Contribution of Investigative Journalism to Water Integrity’ during which some journalists were invited to share their experience.

WIN was formed in 2006 to promote integrity to eliminate corruption and increase performance in the water sector globally.

The public stereotype of corruption in water sector is the looting of funds allocated to the building of water infrastructures by elected/unelected officials. Magda Mis, a reporter with Thomson Reuters Foundation who recently wrote an article on the impact of so-called “water mafias” in Kibera, a slum of Nairobi, Kenya, together with Katy Migiro, her Kenya-based colleague, explained corruption in water sector doesn’t always means over-invoicing, and fraud in public procurements.

Both have looked at criminals’ activities such as illegal taps; the building of clandestine connections to water pipes that result in high water prices for populations in the slums and denied them access to legitimate water resources.

“Conceal illegal connections, theft and leaks alone cause huge revenue loss for the government, around 40% and it is the poorest people that lose,” Magda said during her presentation ‘Investigating Kibera’s Water Mafia’.

Across Africa, particularly in urban areas, the water sector is prone to aspects of corruption like bribes to falsify meter reading, concealed illegal connections, and failure to do assigned maintenance work.

The Kibera case in Kenya is not an exception, and everywhere it happens, poor people are usually the ones who suffer the costs. Yet these forms of corruption are not given the coverage they deserve when it comes to highlight water governance problems. Hence, the panel moderator Fred Pearce’s strong call for investigative journalists to intensify reports on the above mentioned forms of corruption.

“By bringing all these neglected forms of corruption to light, investigative reporting can accelerate stakeholders and officials’ responsiveness to communities’ water needs,” Fred said. 
Selay M.K.



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