Notes from the field: Can social accountability be sustainable?

In November 2015 I travelled to Lunga Lunga in Kwale County in Kenya to see for myself whether Integrity Action’s work had a lasting impact in the county, well beyond the initial intervention.

At the time, Lunga Lunga was a community where women and girls used to walk 3 km every day to fetch water from the nearest reservoir. With our training and support, our Kenyan NGO partner at the time, the Coastal Road Support Programme (CRSP), invited community members to become monitors. Lead community monitors such as Suleiman Ndoro Chaka, found that only two of the four local pipelines were still functioning. This evidence was presented to the Kubo Division Joint Working Group, who then tabled it in meetings with the district water engineer in November 2012 and January 2013. The pipelines were repaired and the pumping station was eventually upgraded. Most importantly for the community of Kubo, they got a functioning standpipe for the first time in many years.

At Integrity Action we know that Community Integrity Building (CIB) has been implemented in a dozen countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. And we know our Fix-Rate, which is around 50%. But a question at the heart of CIB is whether the fixes are sustainable and what positive externalities can be identified through the CIB process.

What I really wanted to understand through my visit was whether the water points that were built and fixed three years ago were still operational. Moreover, whether Ndoro, who was the lead community monitor in Lunga Lunga, was still active long after the Coastal Road Support Programme (CRSP) that had supported him, ceased its activities.

During his trip, Fredrik managed to visit the sites of projects that had been monitored and improved three to four years ago. Fredrik noted that numerous households that only had handheld communal pumps a few years back now have access to drinking water on tap. Moreover, that many households had installed water cisterns as a back-up to ensure water access when there are power cuts and water distribution stalls.

I was delighted to find that the hand pump that was fixed three years ago is still working beautifully.

According to Ndoro, all the other water points that were repaired or completed as a results of Integrity Action’s work in Kwale with CRSP are also still operational.

Ndoro said that with very few exceptions, all the communities in his sub-county now have access to clean drinking water. In addition, Ndoro continues to ask difficult questions of service providers and to hold them to account. He said “the water services we now have would not have happened without the communities demanding it and overseeing the projects. If anyone claims otherwise, then they have nothing to fear from community monitors. They should simply be doing their job.”

It is important to stress at this point that the public service monitoring Ndoro has engaged with over these last few years has been without any backing from an NGO. Kenya’s 2010 constitution gives the people the right to demand transparency of all county and central government activities. It also enshrines their right to access information. But that does not mean it is easy.

Ndoro said “one thing county assembly members and officials threaten us with is to destroy evidence and materials when we take pictures of faulty projects, for example.” Upon hearing this I showed Ndoro DevelopmentCheck, our user driven and solution oriented online tool for citizen feedback which enables the user to safely store documents and photos as evidence [1].

Based on my site visits, my conversations with Ndoro and my meetings with people in the community, it seems that there were many recent improvements in Kwale. I also spoke with HE Hemed Mwabudzo, Kwale County’s Minister of Water and Public Works. I asked Mr. Mwabudzo whether he agreed that much had improved over recent years, and what he thought accounted for this progress.

According to Mr. Mwabudzo, “Kwale stands out as a very good example of devolution” and its relative success can be explained by a combination of three main factors:

  • A strengthened sense of ownership by the community where communities were successfully able to push for fixes.

  • Ineffective institutions now realise that the community is much more aware of its entitlements, and therefore projects have to be executed well and handed over properly to the community.

  • The legal and constitutional framework created by devolution has strengthened ownership of the projects by the community.

Over the last two years Ndoro has, on several occasions, alerted Mr. Mwabudzo and other senior officials to serious delivery and implementation problems. For example, Ndoro said that there is still a community not far from his own where the people only have access to a pond for drinking water, and that they share what is really a waterhole with the elephants that live in the area. The people have access to the pond until 5:00 pm. After that time and until 7:00 am, it is the elephants’ turn. Then the humans have the pond again until 5:00 pm. Sharing a waterhole with a herd of elephants evidently involves numerous health and safety risks. Ndoro asked the local District Officer “Who is the responsible officer who set this schedule? And do you think that this is a sensible arrangement in this day and age?" According to Ndoro, the District Officer responded “Why do you have to ask such difficult questions, Ndoro?"

Mr. Mwabudzo would like to see many more citizens able and willing to do ask difficult questions. “More people need to be trained to give organised inputs into the governance and development process in the county. Monitoring remains critical. We need civil society to have an oversight role."

I asked Mr. Mwabudzo about the community that shares its water source with a herd of elephants. He promised to look into it with Ndoro. Although he could not make a firm commitment Mr. Mwabudzo thinks that based on the progress with the water distribution network from a major dam that is being upgraded, before the end of next year the elephants will have the waterhole to themselves - and the residents of that community will have their own, safe access to clean drinking water.

Integrity Action is confident that together with its Kenyan NGO partner, the National Taxpayers Association, outstanding integrity builders such as Ndoro and strong allies in county government, even more can be achieved to ensure that communities have sustainable access to the services they need and deserve.

[1] Integrity Action did not have DevelopmentCheck when we first supported Ndoro with the monitoring a few years ago.

#Kenya #Water #Sustainability

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