Bangladesh Water Sector: The Corruption Syndrome
- By Sowmya Suryanarayanan
The inception of water resource planning in Bangladesh took place within the broad framework of Flood Control, Drainage and Irrigation (FCDI) programs in the 1960s. A number of water-related development projects were initiated and successfully completed through the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and the Master Plan Organisation (MPO) (now known as the Water Resource Planning Organisation). Around 74 per cent of the population has access to water from improved drinking water sources (Fact Sheet ADB 2008).
However, despite this achievement, a large portion of the country suffers from water scarcity. Water scarcity in Bangladesh has various internal and external dimensions such as rapid increase in population density, unplanned urbanization and industrialization, lack of awareness in efficient use of water resources, strained relations over water with India, and the influence of climate change on the hydrological cycle. A key internal dimension that is often overlooked is the prevalence of corruption in the water sector that causes increased revenue loss, additional public expenditure and environmental degradation.
According to Mr. Muhammad Zamir, Vice President of the Bangladesh Water Partnership, “corruption in the water sector in Bangladesh has usually manifested itself in the following areas: (a) in matters of delivery both to households as well as in irrigation, (b) in improper billing of water supplied and consumed, (c) during civil construction work undertaken for water storage and maintenance and in the (d) lack of strict monitoring of sewerage facilities and effluent discharge by industrial units”. Bangladesh scored 2.0 points on a scale of 0-10 in the Corruption Perception Index, a score closer to 0 indicating high and wide spread perceived corruption, in the Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector, published by the Transparency International (TI) group. The top three forms of corruption in the water sector were negligence of duty (33.3 per cent), asset-stripping (27.3 per cent) and abuse of power (21.2 per cent).
It is therefore, important to investigate as to why the water sector in Bangladesh is prone to corruption. Bangladesh attracts massive aid in the form of loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). For instance, in 2007 the ADB approved a total loan amount of US$965.7 million out of which US$200 million was to help improve the management and operations of urban water supply systems (Fact Sheet ADB 2008). Apart from this, the government of Bangladesh invests around US$670 million per annum for the efficient operation of water delivery system in Dhaka alone. The availability of huge funds at various levels makes the water sector a soft target for corruption. It is observed that existence of different forms of corruption results in wastage of around 50 per cent of funds in water projects.
Another important reason is the creation and existence of monopolies in the water sector because of the power and control exerted by the public sector over water delivery systems. This monopolistic nature has progressively encouraged bribery and red tape to become institutionalized within the water sector. In addition to this, the complexity involved in the structure and management of operations of the water systems has decreased transparency and accountability. There is lack of coordination and cooperation in implementing projects and policies because of the existence of numerous organizations and ministries of the government that are either directly or indirectly involved in the water sector management.
In response to the donors and civil society pressure to combat rampant corruption, the government set up an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2004. However, the commission was ineffective in addressing corruption because of its limited jurisdiction and political bias. After a revamp of its management in 2007, the ACC started an anti corruption drive targeting different government bodies. Its investigations in the water sector have revealed that corruption in different projects run by the Ministry of Water Resources was estimated to be approximately US$1.5 billion during 2001–06. In addition, international organizations along with the help of local institutions and newspapers have exposed defaulters in the water sector. However, neither investigations undertaken by the commission nor initiations taken from international and local institutions have yielded the desired result to extenuate corruption.
Bangladesh needs a more permanent, proactive and long term approach to mitigate corruption in the water sector. Its ability to handle the future vagaries of climate change will depend on its present approach to sustainable water resource planning. At the basic level, Bangladesh must identify the linkages in the corruption chain and tackle it at the initial stages in order to stop it from infiltrating into other areas of the water sector. It must streamline functions of the various water departments and merge departments that have overlapping functions in order to achieve smooth functioning of water-related development activities. In addition to this, suitable accounting methods must be developed of the donor funds in order to ensure that fund allocation and utilization process happens in a transparent and democratic manner.