BENIN: Water sector corruption “enormous”
Corruption in developing countries' water sector leads to billions of lost dollars annually (file photo)
COTONOU, 17 February 2009 (IRIN) - Corruption has limited access to safe water for more than half Benin’s population, according to the Ministry of Energy and Water. Authorities told IRIN cash-strapped consumers are paying the price for mismanagement of the multimillion-dollar sector.
Over the past 20 years donors have given US$87 million to water sector reform in Benin, more than half coming from the Japanese government, said Blaise Dossa, the Water Ministry’s program coordinator for Japanese-funded projects. But even with donor support progress is slow, he said. “When the money arrives, there is a long chain of actors that the money has to go through. It takes a long time to get the projects processed.”
Once donor monies are released to build new water sources, the often murky way mayors award project manager contracts is open to corruption, Dossa said. “The cost of these [management] contracts is inflated. Since only the mayor’s signature is required [to finalise a contract], it ends up being the consumer who pays the higher costs.”
Corruption watchdog Transparency International estimated in its 2008 Global Corruption Report
that in developing countries water sector corruption increases household connection costs by up to 30 percent and costs the industry $48 billion in annual losses.
Government coordinator Dossa said rural water connections cost 20 percent more than urban ones in large part because of the difficulty stemming corruption in disparate and decentralised contracts.
But he told IRIN even contracts negotiated at the national level escape oversight, such as for the purchase of water construction materials including piping, faucets and pulleys. The contracts often include “fake” costs and officials pocket the difference, according to Dossa.
State water officials told IRIN they are trying to go after offenders.
Water is more than twice as capital-intensive as other utilities, “making procurement lucrative and manipulation difficult to detect,” Transparency International says. Nine out of 10 major growth markets for private sector participation in water and sanitation are also in countries with high risk of corruption, based on the watchdog’s 2008 corruption report.
Benin’s rank in the perception-of-corruption index improved when it moved up 22 places in the 2008 list of 180 ranked countries.
Corruption in urban areas and lost water resources have limited the state water company’s means to improve people’s access to water, according to Jean Michel Klican, assistant director of the water company, SONEB. “We want to provide water to everybody, but we cannot.” Profit losses from corruption are so “enormous,” they “cannot even be quantified,” he said.
In 2007 Benin’s Water Ministry reported more than 13,000 water sources - from wells to community faucets - of which 13 percent are malfunctioning, according to a government survey. SONEB’s Klican told IRIN 52 percent of urban residents have access to water.
One of Benin’s Millennium Development Goals is to provide safe water access to 75 percent of the urban population and 68 percent of rural zones by 2015.
But to get there, said Martin Assogba with the local NGO, Association Against Racism, Ethnocentrism, and Regionalism, the government first must attack widespread corruption. “There are people pretending to be metre counters for SONEB. There are SONEB employees who sell stolen water.”
SONEB’s Klican said it has not been easy to catch culprits. “We know people are doing it, but we simply do not have the money to pursue everyone.” He said even though internal investigations have led to a number of prosecutions, much work remains.
“There are [SONEB] metre counters who force customers [failing to pay a bill] to pay extra by threatening to cut off their water,” said Klican. “We are following all these allegations.”