Guest Post: Corruption in Water Resources Management? Not Our Job Say Water-Sector Professionals

Today’s Guest Post is by Juliette Martinez-Rossignol, a graduate student of Political Economy of Development at Sciences Po, Paris, and at the London School of Economics; Laura Jean Palmer-Moloney, a hydro-geographer and consultant with Visual Teaching Technologies specializing in wetlands ecology and hydrology; and Mark Pyman a leader in corruption prevention efforts and co-founder of CurbingCorruption.

It is hard to imagine an area where corruption has a greater impact than in the management and distribution of the world’s supply of water. Examples abound. Locally, as in the misuse of water in a municipality; regionally, as in unregulated diversions in watersheds; and globally, as in corrupt mismanagement of marine protected areas or the diversion of funds intended to combat climate change.

We asked a cross-section of those who have devoted their professional careers to managing the world’s water supply what they were doing to combat corruption in the sector.  Interviewees included engineers in water utilities in the U.S., Mexico, and elsewhere, environmental lawyers, geographers, geologists, ocean economy investors, ecosystem scientists, natural resources managers, plus water anti-corruption practitioners and journalists to.

What we found is enormously troublesome.

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Fighting Corruption in the Water Sector: Comments Please

A mark of progress in the fight against corruption is the growing attention corruption fighters are paying to its nuts and bolts.  A bribe is a bribe: whether paid to rig a bid on a public works contract or duck sanctions for polluting a stream. And laws against bribery and appeals to those in both sectors to refrain from taking a bribe have their place.

But a strategy for preventing bribery in public works contracts, the water sector, or indeed any sector of the economy demands more. Where in the sector is bribery most common? Why do some public servants take them while others refuse? What are the economic incentives public servants and their private sector counterparts face? What social norms operate in the background? What’s the legal regime governing sector operations? In short, what makes the sector tick? 

Only when corruption fighters understand a sector can they devise means for preventing corruption in it and identify indicators (“red flags”) for when it may be present. Teaming an expert corruption fighter with an authority on the sector is the obvious approach, and that is exactly what the U.K.’s CurbingCorruption has done on producing 15 sector-level studies of corruption — from agriculture to education to health to local government to shipping and telecommunications.

A 16th, on corruption in water, is now in progress. The project team comprises Mark Pyman, co-founder of CurbingCorruption, and Laura Jean Palmer Moloney, a hydro-geographer, expert in coastal resources management now with Visual Teaching Technologies. Mark and Laura Jean are soliciting comments on a briefing paper listing what they believe are the key corruption issues across the range of issues in the water sector. Readers can leave a comment below or to write them directly: and