The governance of a water utility is about the processes by which it makes decisions and implements them (UNESCAP, n.d.). Good governance can be defined by a collection of characteristics that describe the approach of the utility, or any other organisation, to its decisions and actions. These key characteristics are explained below.
It is important that all the people who are affected by decisions are allowed to participate in the process of reaching those decisions. Residents’ groups and other stakeholders or their representatives should be consulted as part of any decision-making process (Figure 9.1). Both men and women should be involved. The number and range of stakeholders to be consulted will depend on the project or scheme under discussion. As an example from a wider context, farmers may wish to increase their intake of water from a river for irrigation because they want to improve their crop production. This could affect many other people, especially those who live downstream of the abstraction point on the river, and they should be invited to participate in the deliberations.
When a decision is reached, the way it has been arrived at should be apparent to all, with all the steps documented. So, if it was decided that a dam should be built, details of all the consultations and meetings related to the decision should be available for members of the public to view. Similarly, in the interests of transparency, accounts should be available for public scrutiny, and all the financial decisions should show that value for money was achieved.
The decision-making process and implementation of decisions must take place within a reasonable period of time. An example would be if a village wanted to have its own water supply system using water from a river, the decision on it should be made within a few months of the request.
This is related to participation. As noted above, good governance requires that, for all major projects, consultation with all the stakeholders will be undertaken. Everyone should have the opportunity to put their view forward. The aim in the consultation should be to obtain a consensus, so that the final decision arrived at is in the best interests of the community as a whole. The water utility should play the role of mediator to bring about a decision that minimises any disadvantages to stakeholder groups.
Equity and inclusiveness
It is important that all parties are treated equally and are included in any decision making. The views of all stakeholders should be equally valued. No group should be marginalised, or indeed feel marginalised. It is especially important to consider the needs of vulnerable groups such as low-income families and disabled people (Figure 9.2).
The actions of the water utility should be effective in addressing the issue concerned. This comes down to having the necessary expertise, and keeping the staff up to date through ongoing training. Staff morale should also be kept high so that staff turnover is kept low.
The resources available to the water utility should be used efficiently so that the greatest benefit is achieved with minimal cost and disruption. Any action should be carried out in consultation with interested parties, so that no duplication of effort takes place. For instance, if a new pipeline is to be laid, this can be done when the cables (for the remote control of water treatment equipment) are being put in, so that the roadway is dug up only once.
For a water utility, it is important to consider sustainability in all its operations, so that long-term viability is assured. For example, choosing a more expensive water treatment control system may mean that the cost of maintenance is reduced (see Figure 6.5 in Study Session 6).
What are the terms used to describe the initial cost and the recurring cost?
Capital cost and operating cost.
The water utility has to be accountable to its customers, who are the people affected by its decisions and actions. The water utility has a duty to report on how its funds are used, and how decisions on major issues were arrived at, including on anything untoward that may have happened. This is linked to transparency. Utilities can only be accountable if their activities and processes are known to others.
The water utility has to be independent of political and commercial influence, in order that an equitable service is provided to all who need water.