The Coalition of NGOs in the Water and Sanitation Sector (CONIWAS) in ghana, which organises the annual national sector conference known as the Mole conference, is proud to announce that the Mole Conference Series have been nominated for the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize. This article gives background information on this unique platform.
Mole conference: a sector platform
Until the mid 1990s, planning, provisioning and management of water and sanitation services in Ghana were sole responsibility of government.The landscape for non-state actors in the sector was typified by:
- Fragmented and ineffective civil society, without a voice, power, credibility and experience to influence policy decisions
- Limited dialogue opportunities between policy makers and service providers on one hand, and civil society (including communities) on the other.
- Absence of pro poor advocacy, or inability of it to create any impact on policy decisions
- Lack of a common platform for NGOs in the sector to meet and share experiences
In 1989, WaterAid Ghana and its partners organised a national conference in the Mole game reserve bringing together policy makers and practitioners in the water and sanitation sector.The objectives were to create a forum for debate on sector issues and to build the capacity of partner organisations in assembling and articulating their experiences and ideas. Participants included NGOs, the CWSA and MoWH, District Chief Executives and donors.Following the success of this forum (dubbed Mole I), a decision was taken to make it a permanent feature in the work of NGOs, to be organised annually. The following years witnessed a consistent growth of interest and importance of this forum (through Mole I to now Mole XVI) among civil society, policy makers, local government and donors alike. The Mole Series as it is known today remains the only multi stakeholder platform that consistently bring civil society, government actors, donors and other stakeholders together on an annual basis to deliberate on critical issues affecting the sector.
Institutionalising the Mole conference: the birth of CONIWAS
In 2000, participants of Mole XI began discussing the need to institutionalise the platform for increased effectiveness of civil society advocacy, and in Mole XII, a proposal was tabled for the formation of an NGO coalition.A Planning Committee was established, under the leadership of ProNet, to take the idea forward, and to organise Mole XIII.The Planning Committee successfully organised Mole XIII in October 2002, and modalities for establishing the coalition were deliberated. A new Working Group was established with a mandate to finalise modalities for the coalition, and organise Mole XIV conference. Mole XIV was successfully organised in May 2003, where NGOs accepted the constitution and approved the vision and the proposed mandate formally giving birth to the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS).
The impact of the Mole conference
The Mole series was expected to provide the basis for NGOs in the Water and Sanitation Sector in Ghana to work together, and to give them the needed voice to articulate and spearhead pro poor advocacy in the sector. Over the years, the Mole Conference has however proven to be much more than this. Mole is a great forum where a great variety of stakeholders meet and serves as a platform for discussing sector issues and developing ideas.There is always something new and interesting. The platform created has resulted in increased consultation of policy makers with civil society on new policy proposals, and increased input of civil society in sector policies.
Over the last sixteen years it has played an important role in increasing collaboration and co-ordination between sector stakeholders.Until the mid-1990s, Mole debates were rather confrontational, with both NGOs and government taking entrenched positions.This changed as understanding and mutual respect increased and as increasing numbers of sector actors became regular participants.
Furthermore, Mole conferences have provided a significant opportunity for advocacy on key issues. They have been instrumental in changing government policy towards hand-dug wells as potable water sources in Ghana.Mole discussions were also responsible for government inviting NGOs to participate in the development of the National Community Water and Sanitation Programme.Mole played a significant role in the debate that led to the formation of Community Water and Sanitation Department (CWSD), which has now developed into the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) and for influencing government regarding the need to separate urban and rural water and sanitation services.The Mole series has also been an important venue for debating the issue of 5% community contributions.
The impact of CONIWAS
With the formation of CONIWAS, NGOs now have a bigger voice in the sector. Coniwas serves on many important committees, including the Donor Coordination Committee, the Steering Committee of the Water and Sanitation Supply Program phase II facilitated by the Water Directorate of the Ministry of Works and Housing, the EU country Dialogue process and many others.
The capacities of individual local member NGOs, such as New Energy, ProNET, APDO, AKDEP, CPHD, AWSDB, SCD, RuralAid and many others who have taken turns to organize Mole, to effectively network and advocate have also been strengthened.
Many more development partners including UNICEF, the Commonwealth Foundation, DANIDA, CIDA, EU and the World Bank, have accepted the new character of Mole as a credible nationally owned platform and are joining WaterAid to make substantial contributions towards the conferences.
On future results, NGOs are still working to Influence the government’s position on the 5% upfront cash contributions to the capital costs of water and sanitation projects required of communities as a condition for benefiting from services. In response to the NGO’s advocacy, the Ministry of Works and Housing (MWH) commissioned a nation-wide study in 2001 on the issue of community and District Assembly contributions to the capital costs of water facilities.Among other findings, the study could not establish a link between proper implementation of the policy and increased sustainability or sense of ownership as has been claimed. The study report was presented and discussed at a one day national seminar in June 2002, attended by all major stakeholders, including NGOs, but the meeting failed to reach any agreement about the way forward. Efforts are being intensified to push this through.
Main lesson learnt:
Establishing a platform such as this is possible to replicate elsewhere in the world. The ability of this action to survive 16 years successfully, and continue to grow stronger is inspiring. The action can be replicated through exchange and learning visits between CONIWAS and other civil society groups elsewhere who desire to replicate it. It is important however to get one committed partner that will provide basic funding for the initial processes.