Issue Pack: Water Integrity

Social issuesWater management


1. Introduction – a true story about corruption in the water sector

The squatter area of Kibera in Nairobi is not served by the city water utility. Small private providers buy water from the utility and sell it to Kibera’s half million residents, who queue in front of the water providers kiosks. The price is fixed, but it is many times more expensive than the price that the utility pays for water. Also, the price varies from season to season and depending on the availability of water.

The utility company charges the private providers erratically and inconsistently, and delivers bulk water irregularly. This uncertainty gives utility officials power over the providers, who regularly “tip” officials to receive their water or to revise their bills to something approximating the true charges. Those who buy water in Kibera are the losers. They pay a higher price for water each time this “surcharge” is added.

But things are changing. The small private providers have formed an association and developed a code of ethics to ensure that they all follow a set of agreed-on rules. Their association gives them more leverage in their interactions with the utility, and helps them deal with the petty corruption from utility officials. With this better leverage, the citizens of Kibera will also benefit.

2. A guide to the scripts in the package

The water sector includes individuals, companies, organizations and public agencies that manage water resources and deliver water to users such as consumers and businesses. It includes large infrastructure projects such as dams and larger irrigation systems, as well as smaller projects to bring drinking or irrigation water to small communities.

“Water integrity” means that individuals and groups in the water sector behave in accordance with moral principles and standards. The principles, standards and the behaviours consistent with them create a preventive barrier to corruption.

This script package is sponsored by the Water Integrity Network (WIN). WIN is a Germany-based non-profit organization that promotes anti-corruption solutions in water, sanitation and water resources management worldwide. WIN worked closely with Farm Radio International staff to shape this script package, as well as four Farm Radio Weekly articles which deal with water integrity.

The scripts in this package use a variety of formats. Script 1 is a fictionalized case study of a gravity flow water scheme in a rural community. It is based on extensive interviews with users and project personnel. In this scheme, conflicts emerge from some common but unfair practices. The script shows how users and project workers try to change the way the system is governed in order to ensure that everyone’s water needs are equitably met. Script 2 is a fictional mini-drama, which focuses on the kinds of corruption that are common when independent companies are contracted by governments to build the infrastructure for community water systems. The corrupt “rules of the game” are exposed in a conversation between an entrepreneur and a shrewd villager.

Script 3 is a is a fictionalized account of how the creation of a commercial farm established on swampland in the Great Lakes area of Africa has affected the local farming community. It is alleged by local farmers that these activities are detrimental to their livelihoods. Script 4 is a two-host conversation. The script explains some of the central concepts in water integrity, and provides examples to clarify these explanations. Script 5 is a mini-drama that dramatizes the kinds of petty corruption that can occur when individual farmers take advantage of water systems, and how these kinds of situations can be addressed. Script 6 is a case study of corruption in the Zambian prison system. This corruption not only harms the prison inmates but, because the prison can no longer grow and sell food to neighbouring communities, nearby villagers also suffer. Script 7 is a mini-drama that shows how a community can stand up for its rights and take the first steps towards creating an effective, open, fair and transparent system for managing their own water resources.

3. Background information on water integrity

This section is divided into several sections. First, there is a general introduction to corruption in the water sector. Next, we present definitions of key concepts. Then, we provide several classification schemes, which talk about different types of corruption. Most of this section uses examples to help make these concepts clearer. Finally, we present a short summary of the media’s role in reporting on corruption.

Corruption is a serious problem in the water sector. One study estimates that, if African water utilities functioned in an environment free of corruption, their costs would be reduced by almost two thirds.

A wide range of people and organizations are involved in corruption in the water sector. Some are international, such as donor representatives and private companies. Others who may engage in corrupt behaviour include national or local construction companies, equipment suppliers, middlemen, consumers, civil society organizations, politicians, civil servants, and staff at water utilities.

Corruption thrives in situations which provide a large enough incentive to make it profitable. Regardless of who is involved, people engage in corrupt behaviour because of need, greed, or opportunity. For poor water consumers, corrupt behaviour may be driven simply by the need for water. Poorly paid workers may seek ways to supplement their income. Middle managers may take advantage of the many opportunities available to them to profit from corrupt behavior. Politicians, senior managers and directors may be driven by greed.

Some definitions

To make it easier to talk about corruption, here are definitions of some key concepts. The definitions and examples are taken from Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide (resource document #2 in section 5 below).

  • Corruption

The abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.

Example in practice
According to a national survey in India, more than 70 percent of families that live below the poverty line have reportedly paid a bribe to law enforcement and local housing authorities.

  • Conflict of interest

Situation where an individual or the entity for which they work, whether a government, business, media outlet or civil society organization, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.

Example in practice
The Law on Conflict of Interest in the European country of Bosnia-Herzegovina restricts elected officials, executives and advisors in government institutions from certain activities if they result in private or material gain. These include acts related to the promising of employment, granting of privileges based on party affiliation, giving of gifts, and provision of privileged information on state activities.

  • Collusion

A secret agreement between parties in the public and/or private sector to conspire to commit actions aimed to deceive or commit fraud with the objective of illicit financial gain. The parties involved often are referred to as “cartels.”

Example in practice
The Ghanaian government has been accused of allegedly colluding with logging companies to allow them to operate without the proper licensing and certification standards, resulting in estimates by civil society organizations that only 5 of the 600 logging concessions in the country are legal.


  • Embezzlement

When a person holding office in an institution, organization or company dishonestly and illegally appropriates, uses or traffics the funds and goods they have been entrusted with for personal enrichment or other activities.

Example in practice
Chung Mong Koo, former chairman of Hyundai Motors Co., was convicted in 2007 of embezzling US$ 110 million from company funds, a portion of which was allegedly used to pay off politicians and government officials.

  • Facilitation payments

A small bribe, also called a “facilitating,” “speed,” or “grease” payment. Made to secure or expedite the performance of a routine or necessary action to which the payer has legal or other entitlement.

Example in practice
Saudi Arabia’s Control and Investigation Board charged eight health officials in 2008 with taking bribes to facilitate the granting of licences to open new pharmacies. Investors claimed the licensing department purposely delayed the work and forced them to make facilitation payments in order to advance the approval procedure.

  • Governance

A concept that goes beyond the traditional notion of government to focus on the relationships between leaders, public institutions and citizens, including the processes by which they make and implement decisions. The term can also be applied to companies and NGOs. “Good” governance is characterized as being participatory, accountable, transparent, efficient, responsive and inclusive, respecting the rule of law, and minimizing opportunities for corruption.

Example in practice
To strengthen Nepal’s governance system, its parliament passed four bills in 2002 aimed at constructing an anti-corruption legal framework, and established a unit under the prime minister’s office to monitor and advocate for anti-corruption initiatives. The changes also required that all public officials submit documented statements of their wealth and property.

  • Integrity

Behaviours and actions consistent with a set of moral or ethical principles and standards, embraced by individuals as well as institutions, that create a barrier to corruption.

Example in practice
According to the constitution, the Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago is to ensure that all public officials comply with relevant national laws. The Commission is also mandated to review the practices and procedures of public bodies and monitor the receipt of officials’ declarations (income, assets and liabilities).

The Transparency International national chapter in Bangladesh has been successful at substantially improving the quality and integrity of the public services delivered at the local level after introducing the concept of “Islands of Integrity,” community-based oversight mechanisms that cover sectors such as health, education and land administration.

  • Nepotism

Form of favouritism based on acquaintances and familiar relationships whereby someone in an official position exploits his or her power and authority to provide a job or favour to a family member or friend, even though he or she may not be qualified or deserving.

Example in practice
In the European Commission, one of the most sensational cases of corruption involved allegations that the Commissioner of Research and Education from 1995-1999, Edith Cresson, a former French prime minister, used nepotism in hiring her dentist to produce reports on AIDS research, although he lacked any background or qualifications for the position.

  • Political corruption

Manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Example in practice
In 2000, Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán, the two leaders of Nicaragua’s principal opposition parties, reached an informal pact to push through a constitutional change that enhanced their control of government institutions and constitutional leverage, including life-long immunity from prosecution.

  • State capture

A situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to shape a nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests.

Example in practice
Since the 1990s, multinational corporations have allegedly pressured and bribed key politicians in the Solomon Islands to create a favourable operating environment for logging and to weaken national-level timber management, successfully gaining advantages such as decreasing export taxes, postponing the logging export ban and preventing moves to strengthen government oversight of foreign-controlled operations.

  • Transparency

Characteristic of governments, companies, organizations and individuals of being open in the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes and actions. As a principle, public officials, civil servants, the managers and directors of companies and organizations, and board trustees have a duty to act visibly, predictably and understandably to promote participation and accountability.

Example in practice
In Romania, all high-level government officials must disclose on a public website their financial and property holdings, as well as positions they hold in associations and businesses, any paid professional activities, and their investments in companies.

  • Whistle blowing

The sounding of an alarm by an employee, director, or external person, in an attempt to reveal neglect or abuses within the activities of an organization, government body or company (or one of its business partners) that threaten public interest, its integrity and reputation.
The term in English is largely positive, although many languages lack a similar concept with the same connotation.

Example in practice
In 2006, advocate Jeanetha Brink blew the whistle on fraud occurring in the South African province of Guateng. According to her claims, the local anti-corruption hot line was not investigating tip-offs and was derailing investigations of cases against senior government officials. As a result of her charges, she was relieved of her duties and forced to resign. In 2008, a court declared her resignation was coerced and she was awarded compensation.

The effects of corruption

There are at least three kinds of negative impact caused by corruption in the water sector.

  • Financial impacts: Water is involved in many kinds of economic activities, including agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, transportation, and tourism. Corruption inflates the cost of supplying or treating water for all these activities. Increased costs hurt the financial viability of the business activities, and may be passed on to consumers.
  • Social impacts: Those who control the allocation of water have a great deal of power. This power can be used to favour specific ethnic groups or particular businesses, with negative impacts on other groups, and on social equality and political stability.
  • Environmental and health impacts: Overuse and pollution of water directly harms human and animal health. It also contributes to degradation of wetlands and other ecosystems, with consequences for human livelihoods and wildlife habitat.

Corruption in the water sector

Is the water sector particularly vulnerable to corruption? There are several characteristics of the sector which suggest that the answer to this question is yes.

  • Managing water has political, environmental, and social dimensions. But it is often approached as largely an engineering issue, especially when it involves large-scale projects such as dams and large irrigation projects. The technical expertise required to design and construct infrastructure largely excludes non-technical stakeholders from monitoring progress or requiring institutions, agencies and companies to be responsible for their actions.


  • The water sector is complex and involves many different kinds of groups. Governance is often shared across political boundaries and various agencies. This makes effective regulation and oversight difficult. Often, agencies which distribute and manage water are monopolies and have enormous discretion in the planning and design of projects, awarding of contracts, and monitoring of water services. Legal requirements are often non-existent. There is little tradition in Africa of water users holding service providers accountable.
  • The water sector is highly capital-intensive because of the investments needed for large and complex infrastructure. This makes it easier (and more lucrative) to manipulate procurement and contract activities.


  • Because of climate change, population growth and other factors, water is becoming increasingly scarce. The less water is available, the higher the tendency for corrupt behaviour in fighting for control over the water supply.

Classifying different types of corruption

Here is a useful classification system for better understanding corruption:

  • Petty or bureaucratic corruption occurs when officials use their public positions to accept small bribes and favours.
  • Grand corruption occurs when larger amounts of public money are misused by the smaller number of highly-ranked officials.
  • State capture involvescollusion between public officials and private actors for private benefit.

Another classification scheme

Another way to understand and research the different kinds of corrupt practices is to separate them into interactions which are public/public, public/private sector, and public/consumers or civil society.

In these three areas, corruption can occur at a number of points along the chain of conceiving of, regulating, financing, managing, contracting, building, maintaining and using water systems:

  • Policy making and regulation
  • Planning and budgeting
  • Donor financing
  • Financial transfers
  • Management and program design
  • Tendering and procurement
  • Construction
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Payment for services

Corrupt actions in the public/public sphere include:

  • Agreements between national ministries to follow policies that create monopolies and exclude competition (policy making and regulation);
  • Agreements between national and district government officials that influence the location and type of projects invested in (planning and budgeting);
  • Collusion between donors and governments which results in poor quality work or time over-runs (donor financing);
  • Kickbacks between water sector ministries and other ministries, e.g., finance (financial transfers);
  • Corruption in local government design of projects (management and program design), and
  • Administrative corruption, such as falsification of documents, fraud, and silence payments (tendering and procurement).

Corrupt actions in the public/private sector area include:

  • Officials waiving legal restrictions in exchange for funds from companies (policy making and regulation);
  • Private companies bribing officials to influence budgeting decisions (planning and budgeting), or to construct expensive surface water projects rather than more affordable groundwater water schemes;
  • Donors and private companies colluding to funnel contracts and financial gains to individual companies or officials (donor financing);
  • Companies bribing officials to distort the bidding process, falsify documents, or inflate expenses (tendering and procurement);
  • Officials designing contract specifications to suit their favourite suppliers (tendering and procurement);
  • Companies bribing officials to ignore cases in which structures are not built to standard (construction), and
  • Ignoring health and safety standards (operation and maintenance).

Finally, corrupt actions in the public/consumers or civil society sphere may include:

  • Local elites bribing officials in exchange for preferential treatment, for example by locating pumps and tanks in locations that benefit elites (management and program design),
  • Local people influencing officials to ignore health and safety considerations in exchange for private gain (operation and maintenance),
  • Those with local influence trading political favours for the installation of illegal connections or to avoid disconnection (operation and maintenance), and
  • Local people benefiting from overbilling and fraudulent meter readings (payment for services).

Types of corruption in irrigation services

Because irrigation systems are very important for smallholder farmers, it’s useful to look at the four types of corruption that are typical of irrigation projects or schemes:

1. Subsidy capture: Government subsidies for public irrigation projects are usually justified because they are thought to strengthen national food security and benefit farmers who can’t afford to buy water at market prices. Farmers can benefit from these projects when the increased income they enjoy from receiving water outweighs the (subsidized) costs of the water. However, groups or individuals may lobby governments to pay for projects that do not provide benefits to rural communities at large, but instead provide subsidies to landowners. By overestimating the benefits and underestimating the costs of such projects, these groups or individuals try to influence government decisions which increase private benefits. Also, businesses that design, build and operate irrigation systems may be tempted to bribe system officials.

2. Corruption in construction: Irrigation projects are prone to corruption in the procurement and tendering processes. Dams are unique projects; each one is different than the next. Contractors’ estimates may vary widely, and can include bribes with little risk of detection. Favoured contractors may routinely win contracts, and not be held accountable for poor performance and inferior work. Contractors may also collude to overcharge. (See script #2 in package 92 for a story on these themes.)

3. Corruption in maintenance: Maintenance of irrigation systems is not often carefully monitored, and poor performance can be difficult to detect.  Because maintenance funds are included in an agency’s annual budget and subject to the discretion of maintenance engineers, budgets can be inflated to incorporate opportunities for corruption rather than actual needs for maintenance.

4. Corruption in operation: Irrigation designers often recommend irrigation systems with a certain amount of flexibility. Such flexibility ensures that water can be distributed exactly where it is most needed. But this flexibility can mean greater opportunities for corruption. Officials and those who operate irrigation gates can be bribed to open them further or keep them open longer than intended. Farmers can bribe officials to increase their water allocation. But farmers are also vulnerable to extortion by officials. Water shortages caused by drought and other factors can tempt irrigation officials to extract side payments from farmers.

Lessons from Indonesia on addressing corruption (adapted from resource document 4 in section 5)

The following case study summarizes how an Indonesian development project addressed the challenge of preventing corruption in project activities. It offers some important real-world lessons on how to best ensure transparency and fairness.

The Kecamatan Development Program (KDP) is a $1.2 billion World Bank-financed development project in Indonesia, begun in 1998. It funds infrastructure development and provides small loans to villages. The program serves more than 20,000 villages.

The approach to combating corruption in the KDP is two-pronged. First, it tries to change the conditions that breed corruption in villages by splitting up monopolies over information, resources, and access to justice. Second, it aims to prevent corruption in the project itself by changing the project structure so there are no incentives for corruption. The KDP experience can help us understand what actions can prevent or limit corruption in large, rural development projects in countries with widespread corruption, weak legal systems, and a history of top-down political control by a powerful state bureaucracy.

At the heart of the KDP’s anti-corruption approach is the principle that villagers themselves should have decision-making power over planning, procurement, and management of funds. Some of the actions taken include:
• simplifying financial formats so villagers can easily understand them
• transferring project funds directly into collective village bank accounts
• requiring that all financial transactions have at least three signatures, and that at least three quotations are received for the procurement of goods, to be shared publicly at village meetings
• insisting that details of all financial transactions are posted on village notice boards
• requiring that project funds be accounted for at regular village meetings, at which villagers have the right to suspend further disbursements of funds if irregularities are found
• providing village-level sources of information and channels for complaints independent of local government
• providing intensive field-level supervision by elected village facilitators and sub-district project facilitators
• providing independent monitoring of the project by NGOs and local journalists.

There has been some success with this approach, though corruption persists in the form of budget mark-ups, collusion, bribes, and kickbacks to local officials. The activities which are most effective in limiting corruption are transparency, community participation, and providing independent channels for resolving complaints. Information and local control are key to preventing and fighting corruption. The most successful strategies for fighting corruption have centred on publicizing anti-corruption activities, gathering wide local support, and using sanctions credibly. Project facilitators provide a channel of information to villagers that is independent of local government and, because facilitators are backed by the central KDP structure, they have more protection from threats and intimidation than ordinary villagers.

The media’s role in tackling corruption and advocating for integrity

Lack of awareness is a key factor that prevents anti-corruption action in Africa. Politicians, high-level officials, the media, and the general public all need to be more aware of the causes and consequences of corruption. Radio broadcasters can help raise this awareness, and shape public opinion about corruption and the need for reform. Radio can help develop a common language for listeners to discuss corruption issues, and a deeper understanding of corruption – its causes and its impact.

But radio – and the media in general – can also confuse the issues and divert attention from the changes that are really needed. Often, the media sensationalizes individual cases rather than concentrating on understanding the different forms of corruption and how root causes breed corruption. Reporting tends to be fragmented. It may not link similar cases together to show how particular forms of corruption have become systemic. If radio does not make these links visible, it is difficult for listeners to address corruption and develop strategies to prevent similar cases in the future.

The media is valuable because it can help structure the framework and the nature of debates on corruption. But media campaigns do not always work in the way they are intended. For example, publicizing corruption cases may alienate decision-makers from cooperating to address the issues at hand. Debates in the “court of public opinion” may cause governments to become more defensive and resist changing policies, especially if discussions are confrontational. While radio and other media can help create change by spotlighting corrupt behaviour, the risk of targeting particular individuals or groups is that it can divert attention away from the larger task at hand. For example, “lifestyle checks” of public officials create a lot of “heat,” but often shed little light on the serious anti-corruption reforms that are necessary.

Lastly, radio in Africa is the best way to communicate information quickly to the greatest number of people. But, especially when one is dealing with issues of corruption, it can destroy a station’s reputation, especially if claims are made on faulty, weak or improperly researched evidence.

4. Production ideas

There are many ways to create radio programming on corruption in the water sector. Here are a few:

  • Interview an expert on corruption in the water sector froma national or international organization that works on corruption issues (a list of organizations can be found in section 5). Questions to ask include:
    • Can you provide any examples of corruption in the water sector in this country/region?
    • What are some of the ways that corruption in the water sector can be prevented?
    • What can users of water systems do when they believe they are being cheated, or when they believe more generally that there is corruption or unfairness in the water system?


  • Produce a call-in or text-in program. Invite an expert from a national or international organization that works on corruption issues, and invite callers to call or text questions about corruption in water systems.
  • Produce 4-6 radio spots which explain the costs of corruption and some of the ways in which it can be prevented. Each spot could start with the same “punchy” lead line and discuss one important element.


  • Host or chair a roundtable discussion on corruption problems in the water sector in your community. Invite representatives from various groups: civic and traditional leaders, leaders of women’s groups, water users, utility officials, government spokespersons, NGO representatives, and concerned citizens.
  • Interview members of nearby (or distant) communities that have successfully addressed corruption issues in the water sector. Follow up with a call-in or text-in program which considers whether these solutions would work for your community.


  • Adapt the scripts in this package to your local situation by conducting local research. Follow up broadcasts of the scripts with call-in programs or roundtable discussions.

5. Further resources on water integrity

Resource organizations

Resource programs and documents

Radio programs (Note: these radio programs are not necessarily on corruption in the water sector, but on corruption issues in general.):

  • Today is not Tomorrow. Search for Common Ground’s soap opera series in Liberia includes dramatizations of corruption issues.
  • Atunda Ayenda. Search for Common Ground’s soap opera in Sierra Leone also includes dramatizations of corruption issues.
  • Common Ground News Feature. Search for Common Ground’s news program in Sierra Leone includes stories of corruption.


Internet / print documents:

  • Réseau d’Intégrité de l’Eau, 2009. Water Integrity Gender Equity and Climate Change Call 2009.
  • Transparency International, 2009. La lutte contre la corruption en termes clairs.
  • Transparency International, 2008. Rapport mondial sur la corruption 2008 : La corruption dans le secteur de l’eau.
  • Janelle Plummer et Piers Cross, 2006. Tackling Corruption in the Water and Sanitation Sector in Africa: Starting the Dialogue, dans Campos, E et Pradhan S., 2007. The Many Faces of Corruption: Tracking vulnerabilities at the Sector Level. Banque mondiale. Disponible pour téléchargement à l’adresse
  • Réseau d’Intégrité de l’Eau, 2009. Guide de Plaidoyer : Boîte à outils pour des actions en faveur de l’Intégrité de l’Eau. Disponible pour téléchargement à l’adresse
  • Réseau d’Intégrité de l’Eau, 2008. Lesoto : Un précédent pour la poursuite judiciaire de la grande corruption chez les entreprises multinationales. Bulletin d’information No 5/2008. Disponible pour téléchargement à l’adresse
  • Réseau d’Intégrité de l’Eau , 2009. UGANDA : Action citoyenne en faveur de plus de redevabilité dans les services d’eau et d’assainissement des quartiers défavorisés de Kwempe à Kampala. Bulletin d’information No 3/2009. Disponible pour téléchargement à l’adresse
  • Réseau d’Intégrité de l’Eau, 2009. Anti-Corruption Day 2009: Special Interview. Disponible pour téléchargement à l’adresse
  • Stålgren, P. Corruption in the Water Sector: Causes, Consequences and Potential Reform. Swedish Water House Policy Brief Nr. 4. SIWI, 2006.
  • Kathleen Shordt, Laurent Stravato et Cor Dietvorst, 2006. About Corruption and Transparence in the Water and Sanitation Sector. International Water and Sanitation Centre.
  • Marie Chêne, U4 Helpdesk, Transparency International, 2009. Overview of Corruption in Tanzania.
  • Maria Jacobson et Hakan Tropp, 2010. Addressing corruption in climate change water adaptation. Review in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, Volume 9, pages 81-86.
  • Rick Stapenhurst, 2000. The Media’s Role in Curbing Corruption. Institut de la Banque mondiale, 2000.


  • Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing editor, Farm Radio International.
  • Reviewed by: Erik Nielsen, Manager Country Based Programmes, Water Integrity Network and Alexandra Malmqvist, Assistant Communications Coordinator, Water Integrity Network.