This short piece articulates the significance of transparency and accountability (T&A) in the delivery of public service, in this case, water. Against the backdrop of the country’s population growth, pace of urbanization, degree of pollution, and disquiets on climate change, peoples’ access to clean and safe drinking water, the availability of government’s water resources, and society’s steady supply of unpolluted water for industrial and agricultural purposes are extremely challenging.
The demand for potable sources of water over and above for flood control, storage, and hydroelectric power generation has grown over time especially in Metro Manila, home of nearly 15 million people and one of the most densely populated metropolitan cities in the world. The water crisis in the metropolis is the ongoing crisis that affected most of the households with a water interruption. The crisis is not new. In fact, the water crisis in the early 1990s became the justification for the privatization of the water sector.
The National Water Crisis Act in 1995 (Republic Act 8041) laid down the legal foundation for the privatization of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), a government-owned agency engaged in water supply, treatment, and distribution serving Metro Manila and in charge of water privatization pursuant to its Water Security Plan (WSP) for 2018-2023. At present, 90% of the Metro Manila’s drinking water comes from the 56-year-old Angat Dam which can supply about 4,000 million litres per day (MLD) or 98 percent of the potable water in Metro Manila through the MWSS.
RA 8041 gave then-President Fidel Ramos emergency powers, for a period of one year, to manage the projected 75% increase in national demand for water. Addressing this issue requires the construction of several water infrastructure projects. This includes the construction of new dams and reservoirs to provide additional sources of water, the modernization of the country’s water distribution system, and the improvement of water quality.
In a comparative study conducted between two flagship infrastructure projects of the country – the New Centennial Water Source- Kaliwa Dam Project (NCWS-KDP) and Wawa Bulk Water Supply Project-Upper Wawa Dam (WBWSP-UWD), otherwise known as the Kaliwa Dam Project (KDP) and Upper Wawa Dam (UWD) respectively – to determine the extent and depth of their transparency and accountability, the following research instruments were used: the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS); processes of public consultation; social and environmental standards; and disclosure of contracts and agreements.
The CoST IDS, an analytical framework that determines the openness or restrictiveness of government or project owners in disclosing information and facts on data points or “items” of concern across the key stages of the infrastructure project cycle revealed that the UWD project is more transparent and accountable than KDP with 179 total scores in 39 CoST IDS items compared with the latter having 104. On average, the UWD project chronicled nearly five (5) while KDP recorded nearly three (3) with six (6) as the highest score per item and zero (0) as the lowest (see table below).
Project CoST Information by Phases and Scores
With regard to public consultation, meaningful consultation on the impact of any proposed project with the affected communities and other stakeholders is an important component of transparency. In as much as the location of both projects are inhabited by the indigenous peoples (Dumagat/Remontado), it is essential that people whose livelihood, culture, and ways-of-life would be disturbed by the project should be consulted not only to comply with the provisions of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples on the indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) but also to make the project successful.
The study attests that both projects had complied with the FPIC requirement with regard to the indigenous peoples (IPs) (Dumagat and Remontados). The NCWS-KDP had been accorded with FPIC by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) as provided by the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) or Republic Act 8371 in November 2022 notwithstanding the protest of Dumagat-Remontados IPs who marched to Malacañang Palace to oppose the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. The indigenous community sought a dialogue with President Marcos Jr. and demanded a halt to the construction of the project. However, the attempt was unsuccessful.
On the part of the WBWSP-UWD, its FPIC was awarded in July 2020 and March 2022 for its phase 1 and 2 respectively. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) forged between Wawa JVCo Inc. and Dumagat/Remontados in both phases was witnessed by representatives of the NCIP.
Corollary to public consultation, the conduct of a comprehensive social and environmental impact assessment is an important aspect in appraising transparency of dam and big-ticket infrastructure projects. The WawaJV Co. Inc. has been issued with the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) in July 2020 by the DENR-EMB (Environmental Management Bureau). In the case of the KDP, its ECC from DENR-EMB was afforded to its project owner, MWSS, on 11 October 2019. It is to be noted however that in the Commission on Audit (COA) 2020 audit report, the MWSS (project owner of NCWS-KDP) proceeded with the implementation of the P12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam project in Infanta, Quezon “without proof of compliance with environmental prerequisites and submission of necessary permits.
It is central to transparency that contracts, agreements, and bidding processes are disclosed to ensure that selection of contractors, allocation of funds, and the overall project management are forthright. Transparency strengthens democracy and promotes accountability. On contracts and agreements, the UWD remains more transparent, garnering the highest score of six (6) in its CoST IDS’s contract phase while KDP recorded zero (see table above). The former as well is assessed to have maintained a more comprehensive website that keeps the public updated on the development of the dam’s construction apart from the regular news releases it posts compared to the latter.
The comparative study of the Kaliwa and Wawa dam projects highlights the need to advance the cause of transparency and accountability. While both “big-ticket” infrastructure projects have lofty goals of addressing the country’s water scarcity issues and providing a reliable water supply to meet the growing demands of Metro Manila’s population and nearby provinces, hence contributing to water security and ensuring access to clean water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial purposes, the achievement of the objectives is contingent fundamentally on the degree of transparency with which the project is being administered, safeguarding the processes of management from systemic corruption.
Insofar as the study is not a study on corruption, it clearly shows that the project which is more transparent (Wawa dam project), despite some of its limitations, was able to deliver its services far ahead of the Kaliwa dam project. Apparently, WawaJVCo. Inc. has been relatively successful in balancing water supply requirements with environmental and social considerations.
It could be argued that a relatively transparent organization heightens its legitimacy and value for money as it fosters economical, efficient and effective use of resources and provision of services and promotes equity in the allocation and use of resources in its operations. Transparency, which focuses on clarity and openness of the culture, drives behavior and increases responsibility in the management of resources.
A policy paper published by the World Bank highlights that “transparency is important not only because it increases the efficiency in the allocation of resources, but also because it may help in ensuring that the benefits of growth are redistributed and not captured by the elite.” (2)
- The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is the agency of the national government of the Philippines that is responsible for protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
- Kaufmann, D. and Bellver, A. (2005) Transparenting Transparency: Intial Empirics and Policy Applications. Online at http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/8188/ MPRA Paper No. 8188.