Foreign Aid

Finding the leaks in Kenya’s water sector

Brady Yauch
June 24, 2009

After receiving loans from the World Bank last year, a recent report by Transparency International(TI) says Kenya’s water sector is riddled with corruption and inefficiencies—an allegation that the government seems to admit. In response to the report, Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, reported that the Water Permanent Secretary, David Stower, welcomed the report, saying it will help the ministry implement ongoing reforms in the nation’s water sector.

According to Transparency International Kenya, 57% of domestically-consumed water goes unaccounted for, while the country’s Water Resource Management Authority collects as little as 20% of the fees due from large water users—resulting in a massive loss in revenue. Furthermore, more than 40% of large-scale water users lacked abstraction permits, while almost 50% did not have master readers for measuring their abstraction from water sources.

The water sector is more than inefficient—it’s also riddled with corruption. TI-Kenya found that the bribing of officials in order to gain illegal access to water was the most common form of corruption. It also reported that cases of bribery for illegal water connection are higher in Nairobi at 87%, Mombasa 75% and Kisumu 67%—three cities that received World Bank funds for water sector improvements.

“Corruption in the water sector threatens security in the country,” says Job Ogonda, the Executive Director of Transparency International-Kenya. “Cartels are currently controlling water supply in slum areas as a result of inadequate supply.”

TI Kenya says the report was necessary, as the nation’s water sector continues to be plagued by poor management, gross inefficiencies and corruption—despite implementing reforms in 2003.

The report comes in the wake of the World Bank-sponsored Water and Sanitation Service Improvement Project [PDF] —a $150-million program, launched in 2007—and the second of its kind—that, with other international donors, has sought to promote reliable, affordable and sustainable water supplies and sanitation services.

The Bank had great hopes for their loans, which they promised would help implement the 2003 reforms, improve the transparency and internal controls of the water sector, and the accountability of government officials working in the water sector.

Those promises seem dashed now by TI – Kenya’s report. One wonders if it was mere bank hype and if the intervention of the international donors was just one more example of what Dambiso Moyo calls “Dead Aid.” Moyo, in her recent bestseller book “Dead Aid” argues that the culture of aid-dependency leads to “corruption, inflation, the erosion of social capital, the weakening of institutions and the reduction of much-needed domestic investment.”

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