The provision of drinking water supply has often been marred by multiple problems in remote rural villages. Most of these issues also pertain to absence of citizen engagement in rural water supply delivery.
Local administration responsible for supply of water often comprises local residents usually recruited on political grounds. To change this situation, citizens must engage with the local administration to improve the service delivery.
Ideally, a citizen engagement mechanism comprises both water users and facility staff to work together for an improved water service delivery.
The Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) is responsible for development, management, maintenance and monitoring the existing and new schemes at the district level in KP.
A small village in the north east of Abbottabad, Bagh Bandi, is working to strengthen citizens’ engagement for the provision of water supply through Water User Committee (WUC), a community model for managing rural water supply schemes.
This water committee is mandated to work closely with both users and facility staff to overcome issues hindering smooth functioning of supply schemes.
This committee also aims to bring about a change in the approach towards solving issues at the local level and encourage the community to play an active role in creating ownership, eliminating illegal water connections, and enhancing revenue through tariff collection.
The village in Abbottabad got the water scheme approved by the water committee and the community at large. PHED procured the services of a contractor to complete the installation work. Some of the executive members of the water committee read the news published in the local newspaper in which contractor thanked the local PHED officials for extending support and cooperation.
One of the executive members apprised the members about the recently enacted KP RTI Act 2013 and proposed to seek information from the local PHED officials on the approved scheme. A resolution demanding information on the work order, budget, scheme design and specifications were drafted and passed unanimously by the water committee. In response, Executive Engineer (XEN) PHED furnished the information to the community upon its request. While scrutinising the documents, water committee found irregularities in the actual installation work. This clearly depicts mismanagement and corruption in development and maintenance of rural drinking water supply schemes.
Information is oxygen to democracy and helps citizens make informed choices and decisions. So did the water committee, and decided to take up this matter to the XEN for corrective actions, but unfortunately, it was turned down by the local PHED staff.
The members then decided to approach the Divisional Commissioner-Hazara to intervene. The commissioner directed District Monitoring Officer (DMO) to investigate the matter and report back to him for further action.
The DMO made field visits and apprised the commissioner about the severity of the matter, who constituted a committee comprising PHED staff, contractor and water committee members. After 7 days, the committee submitted its report and found irregularities in the construction work.
The commissioner advised the local PHED staff to act upon the recommendations of the investigation report and immediately order the contractor to comply with the actual scheme design and specification.
Now, the community is in close contact with local PHED staff and contractor to fully comply with the design. This has brought unprecedented results in increasing the government responsiveness towards community action. Now, the community is accessing the water supply from government maintained supply scheme.
This activism by RTI and citizen to hold accountability of the local PHED staff is a good start to a long journey of good governance in public service delivery system.
Citizen activism is encouraged by RTI which provides critical information on scheme design. This community activism proves to be a deterrent against mismanagement and ineptness of the public officials within service delivery system. Now we all know that KP RTI Act 2013 gives the right to every citizens of Pakistan to access information in the public domain in a cost effective and easy manner.
Social constituencies working in the social services domain can enhance the efficacy of this law. These constituencies in education and health are already notified and approved bodies of the provincial government but are still facing the wrath of bureaucratic inertia in the drinking water supply sector.
Draft of National Drinking Water Policy 2009 encourages community participation and empowerment in planning, implementation, monitoring, operations and maintenance of water supply system. It also emphasises upon projects to establish dedicated social mobilisation units to mobilise community around key areas for effective water service delivery.
Similarly, KP Integrated Development Strategy 2014-18 also acknowledges provision of drinking water supply as a basic right of the citizen and stresses on improved citizen participation for effective social service delivery.
The strategy focuses on strengthening community participation in education but does not clearly spell out any pathways for community inclusion in drinking water supply.
The provincial government drafted a drinking water supply policy way back in 2011 but it is not yet approved and notified. Now, efforts are being undertaken again to revise the draft policy and transform it into more inclusive policy.
The communities will work together with the service provider to collect user charges for drinking water services. Social mobilisation units will be established in all water service delivery departments. It also emphasises on the civil society to provide technical and financial assistance for the provision of safe drinking water supply schemes.
The provincial government should integrate citizens’ participation in water service delivery in the newly drafted integrated development strategy 2014-18. This will indicate a level of government interest and commitment towards community participation in social services.
Water user committee must immediately be notified and approved for its wider application in all districts with technical and financial support. This will create enough community space for improvements in water services and help service providers in taking informed decisions at local levels to avoid corruption and mismanagement.