A week-long integrity training for stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector—said to be rocked by rampant corruption—kicked off in Monrovia Monday (Aug 5), bringing together about 30 participants from Gambia, Liberia and Nigeria.

The Regional Water Integrity Capacity Building Program in Sub-Saharan Africa is sponsored by the Water Integrity Network and ECOWAS’ Water Resource Coordination Center (WRC) among other international partners.

It is jointly organized by the Ghana Integrity Initiative and the Center of Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), and is third in a series of five regional capacity development training on water integrity for the West African Region, officials said.

Among other things, the training seeks to address issues of rampant corruption which is said to be very severe in the water resource management sector of countries in Africa.

The World Bank and other transparency bodies estimate that about 40% of resources intended for water resources management is spent erroneously, mostly under corrupt circumstances.

Currently, clean drinking water remains unobtainable for nearly 884 million people around the world, with Africa accounting for a huge chunk of the number, principally as a result of corruption in the sector.

Organizers of the training course said corruption threatens and undermine investments made in water with many African countries lagging behind in reaching the MDGs. They said corruption slows down development progress which implies that it will take much longer time to reach the MDGs and at a much higher cost, unless concerted actions are taken by states to fight the vulnerability.

It is reported that despite recent progress in democracy and human rights in a number of African countries, corruption remains one of the biggest challenges throughout the continent, and the water sector is no exception.

“Water is a fundamental resource for sustainable development and is essential to eradicate poverty, to secure food and energy,” Madam Franciose Nicole Ndoume, WIN Program Coordinator for Francophone and English Capacity Building said in her opening address Monday.

“In most countries,” she noted, “water crises are not due to resource scarcity but primarily to governance failures” and corruption.

According to the Global Corruption Report of Transparency International and Water Integrity Network, almost US$48 billion are diverted every year from the water sector because of corruption practices, she said.

“It is high time to take a line of action and reverse the status quo so that funds for the water service delivery worldwide and particularly in Africa are utilized for the correct purposes,” Ndoume asserted, adding, it is with the view to reversing this situation that ECOWAS, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) are, with the help of their partners, implementing the capacity-building programme to ensure that “water integrity ambassadors” are built to take the lead in this issue in their respective countries.

She observed that fragmented institutions obstruct accountability in a sector with high investment and aid flows, making the water sector particularly vulnerable to corruption. “Lack of water-related integrity incurs huge cost for societies, lost of lives, degraded resources, just to mention a few,” said.

Among other things, the overall objective of the training program is to develop capacities of different stakeholder groups and government levels to improve transparency and accountability practices in the water sector in Africa.

On the personal level, the training will strengthen water sector stakeholders’ awareness and understanding of corruption, its risk and ways to promote good practice and put in place integrity mechanisms.

On the operational level, it will strengthen the capacities of water sector actors to ensure integrity in their daily work within their organisations, and regionally, encourage and stimulate dialogue and learning on how corruption can be addressed in the water sector at a regional and national level, drawing on local experiences for new appropriate approaches; furthermore to build the capacities of RECs and other regional actors to work with integrity issues in the water sector with their members and member states.

Madam Ndoume furthered that working towards water integrity requires concrete actions, including using and expanding existing networks and building new alliances between sectors to develop a broad consensus on water integrity, and use multiple communication channels to raise awareness for issues and available solutions.

It also requires encouraging organizations to consider water integrity in the development of organizational policies, strategies and action plans; investing in inclusive multi-stakeholder processes that foster collaboration beyond the water sector, engaging user organizations, investors, planning authorities and core governance institutions at country level to join reform agendas, the WIN executive pointed out.
“The main purpose of this training is to create ‘water integrity ambassadors’ in each of the participating countries,” Dr. Daniel K. Yawson, one of the facilitators, said in an interview.
Yawson said corruption was a serious challenge in the WASH sector, noting that not every country has established effective water management policies nor invested required resources to make the sector effective.
“At the end of the day we believe that the sector will improve when the participants get back home; there will be improvement in policies; there will be practical steps adapted so that whatever little money that comes to the sector will be properly managed for results,” he intimated.
He believes that the change will be possible because those who are participating in the training are part of the decision makers in the sector of the respective countries.
Many of the participants noted that the sector remains fragmented in their countries, while there is lack of political will either by action or inaction in supporting and strengthening the sector.
They said several of the water-related projects were “political” meaning lacking durability and sustainability and done without the input of the people for whom they are intended.
Augustine N. Myers, Liberia’s WASH Journalists Network Chairman, one of the participants, said the training was “very good and will help us hold our leaders accountable to pay more attention to the WASH sector.”
“We first need to understand the issue, and that’s the essence of the training,” he said. “With this fresh knowledge, our advocacy will be strengthened, and that’s why we want to applaud the sponsors for this weeklong training.”
About 30 participants are undergoing the training taking place at the Palm Spring Hotel in Congo Town. Writes D Kaihenneh Sengbeh, dakasen1978@yahoo.com, +231886586531, Liberia’s WASH Journalist Network