Not Just Procurement Risks: Red Flags in How Water Infrastructure is Planned

Original publication: Water Integrity Network


Integrity risks related to the selection and planning of new infrastructure are high. They also have significant long-term impacts for people and planet. However, risks related to procurement tend to be better understood and are more often the focus of integrity initiatives. It’s time to look under the hood.

The main integrity risks are conflicts of interest occurring during the identification and implementation phase. In many cases, the identification of the project is politically motivated. And in the implementation phase, there are many interested parties. Other issues include the limited capacities of implementing partners, poor compliance with laws and regulations, and activities being implemented outside the contract, leading to increasing costs
– Namarome Lukelesia of the Water Sector Trust Fund (Kenya), when describing the integrity management practices of the Fund for the development of projects in rural areas of the country (for Integrity Talk 3 on Small Water Supply Systems)

Over the years partners have shared many examples of early-stage water infrastructure risks, as in the quote above. In 2022, our research case study on wastewater in Bangkok revealed rent-seeking is often a bigger driver than need in the way wastewater treatments plants are built. Insufficient or inadequate data (because of inadequate capacity or, of more concern, because of selective or discriminating practices), as well as poor participation, can lead to water and climate adaptation infrastructure that doesn’t reach those most in need or cannot be used (as highlighted in recent discussions on maladaptation and on new tech for integrity).

Despite cascading impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods and the possibility of exploding costs, risks at strategic planning, project identification, preparation, selection and financing phases, have received limited research and practical attention and remain somewhat opaque. In response, WIN worked with CoST and the IDB, to identify indicators and associated data points that can ensure stakeholders have visibility and input for decision-making and planning. The result is a data framework for decision-making and accountability: the Framework for Integrity in Infrastructure Planning.

In a pilot test in Latin America, data points related to, for example, project location, timing, beneficiaries, vetting process, and project budget, contribute to an examination of nine main risks:

Undue influence in decision-making

Non-accountable decision-making

Unmanaged conflict-of-interest

Priority misalignment

Misuse of public funds

Biased preparation processes

Biased budgeting approval processes

Manipulation of budgeting processes

Non-accountable budgeting processes

The first results are promising in terms of ease of use and relevance of results. Indicators made it possible to identify red flags for further investigation related to feasibility studies, inadequacy of project choices, and compliance with procedures.