Access to information and accountability to users in the water sector

The availability of information, if it is used advisedly, can be an important lever for improving service quality, especially in Tunisia, where the operators are in a monopolistic position. Decree Law 41 on the right of access to administrative documents of public agencies - to be replaced shortly by a law on the right of access to information (HuffPost Maghreb, 2013) - gave a strong signal for involving citizens in the government decision-making process in Tunisia. Free access to information in the administrative and financial fields, in particular, is an important step towards ensuring accountability and transparency vis-a-vis the citizens. At the present time, while information on service performance exists, it is communicated in a format that makes it difficult for stakeholders to use. The legal arsenal governing the communication of information is being expanded with respect both to the consultation dimension and to the obligation of ministries and public enterprises to publish their reports online.

The efforts recently undertaken to develop performance indicators need to be consolidated and their results published. Making those indicators available to stakeholders is an essential condition for improving local service. The programme contracts already in place between the government and the operators provide a solid basis for collecting information and monitoring performance in terms of service quality. The indicators developed by SONEDE (based on work of the International Water Association, IWA) and collected for each of the 38 districts, grouped into four regional directorates, cover essentially the technical aspects of water supply, and not the quality of service. Work has recently been done on the possibility of extending those indicators, and that work should be pursued, for indicators of commercial performance and user satisfaction are necessary and could reinforce the efforts of the SONEDE quality management unit, with more thorough user satisfaction surveys, among other things. Since 2007, studies have been conducted to define the indicators, the method and the authorities responsible for producing them (for example concerning operations, human resources for measuring personnel productivity, indicators of equipment, financial service, and deadlines). SONEDE has also established a water balance (non-revenue water), but other indicators are still pending (in particular those relating to service quality), although the bases (including satisfaction surveys) exist. It is important that these indicators should be defined over the medium term: the information collected should be disaggregated by region in order to allow local performance monitoring, and it should be published (at a single, readily accessible website) to encourage improvements in performance and service quality.

The credibility of information will depend both on the importance that operators attach to it (and hence on the use of these data for strategic measures - establishing tariffs or penalties in case of poor performance, for example) and on the confidence that sector stakeholders have in it. Meeting information needs will also require producing data beyond those supplied by the two principal operators, and to do so in line with the policy objectives that these same operators are supposed to observe. In this context, one option that the authorities could consider is to assign the responsibility for monitoring and validating performance to an independent third party, particularly as the contacts between the operators and the oversight authorities also entail obligations for the latter, who are consequently stakeholders. In many countries, this “third party” takes the form of an independent observatory, often headed by academic researchers, as in the case of Mexico (Box 2.3).

Tunisia's national water information system (SINEAU) could be improved by including dimensions relating to “services” such as consumption or tariffs, and by communicating it to the citizenry to reinforce transparency. At the present time, it responds in part to users' data needs, but its scope of application is restricted. For the time being, it concerns essentially water resources (SYGREAU, which is headed by the General Directorate of Water Resources, DGRE), water pollution (the COPEAU/SPORE control system) and soil quality (the SISOL monitoring system). International experience in this area could provide input for expanding the system.

Box 2.3. The SIAPS information system in Mexico

The water and sanitation information system in Mexico, SIAPS (Sistema de Information de Agua Potable y Saneamiento) is a technological platform created by researchers at the University of Mexico (COLMEX, Colegio de Mexico) which runs a geographic information system in support of decision-making and enhanced water management.

For the short term, the objectives of SIAPS are to map the available information on water, which has hitherto been scattered among several government institutions, to analyse the data on the basis of requests by the users, to develop data management functions and produce results useful to consumers, and to make the SIAPS an interactive tool.

For the medium and long run, the plan is that SIAPS will develop an environmental dimension at the river basin level. The system will provide an accurate analysis of water resource management, in particular as it relates to conflicting water and sanitation uses. The system is also expected to develop performance indicators that could be used as a tool by consumers, municipalities and civil society organisations for a co-ordinated approach to water problems, and the identification of sustainable solutions.

Source: OECD (2013b), Making Water Reform Happen in Mexico, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

A new version (2.0) of the Tunisian information system could enhance transparency and broaden access to information. Wider dissemination of more complete data is an important factor in improving the performance of water and sanitation services. It also helps to improve understanding of the situation in the Tunisian water sector in different settings - rural, urban and peri-urban - and will make for more informed public input into the decision-making process.

  • • It should serve to integrate sub-national data for a better reflection of territorial disparities, reflecting for example consumption levels in various cities and for various uses (domestic, agriculture, industry, tourism etc.), the quality of drinking water, the rate of wastewater treatment, the performance of water and sanitation services, and production costs.
  • • It should lead to an assessment of the quality of data collection systems throughout the country, and effective co-ordination among the responsible bodies (SONEDE, ONAS, GDAs, private service providers etc.) in order to harmonise information. This information would serve as a basis for considering the differentiated impacts across the political (centralised) service management territories of SONEDE and ONAS and the specific measures they might take to improve performance and remedy the observed shortcomings (in terms of coverage, quality, complaint handling etc.), for example in rural and peri-urban areas.
  • • It should also allow a general broadening of access to information technology and the public availability of official data. The new SINEAU will need to have a regular monitoring system for making the necessary updates.

While a new version of the SIAPS may overcome part of the water information deficit, however, it will not solve the problem fully or integrate all the missing information. To do so will require more attention to economic and pricing aspects (who pays for what) and a political will to establish a reliable and transparent database, two conditions for the success of private sector involvement and of the infrastructure project pipeline. In addition, the information systems already available show a number of weaknesses. Requests by various donors for information relating to project monitoring have led to different systems and indicators, and information has to be gathered for each of them. A degree of harmonisation is needed, notwithstanding the operating rules specific to each donor.

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