Engaging Citizens in the Regulation of Water and Sanitation Services in Honduras
In Honduras, control and regulation of the water and sanitation sector is complex due to several factors, including the large amount of service providers that exists and the fact that they are geographically dispersed, as well as the conditions in which the population lives and its ethnic diversity. It is therefore critical to regulate the performance and quality of these services according to the existing legal framework, including environmental and sanitary regulations. However, the Regulating Entity for Water and Sanitation (ERSAPS in Spanish) is limited in its ability to mobilize and understand the situation surrounding each of the many drinking water and sanitation systems. Given this context, and complying with its legal capacity, the Regulating entity decided to promote the creation of two local entities to engage the civil society in all 298 municipalities. The creation of these units is institutionalized in a municipal ordinance, which also determines its structure and budget.
First, the Municipal Commission for Water and Sanitation (COMAS in Spanish), comprised of a certain number of municipal councilors – elected in the sessions – as well as members of the civil society – elected in open town halls.
The duties of COMAS include: i) formulate and propose municipal water and sanitation policies to the Municipal Corporation and support the municipality in reaching out to the target population; ii) assist the municipality in the promotion and coordination of sectoral planning and the management of financial resources, both in rural and urban arenas; and iii) have access to situation reports and Municipal Sectoral Assessments, developed by the Unit of Local Supervision and Control (USCL in Spanish), using this information as part of the sectoral information system, and as input to support municipal sectoral planning.
Second, created and integrated within 5 years as a citizen oversight mechanism, the Unit for Local Supervision and Control. This entity is composed of 3 well-respected members of the community who are charged with overseeing the enforcement of sectoral regulations and addressing user complaints, both in rural and urban environments. Its Presidency rotates every year and, because the position is ad honorem and for a limited time, municipal authorities assign a full-time staff to receive complaints and submit them to the USCL directory in second instance (the provider is the first). This person is trained and certified by the ERSAPS as a Regulation and Control Technician (TRC in Spanish) and supports the service providers in the quality monitoring process and sends the information generated by all the providers on a regular basis to the Regulatory Information System for Water and Sanitation (SIRAPS).
This entity is in charge of: i) working with the ERSAPS to secure the enforcement of the Framework Regulation and its rules; ii) draft and update Municipal Sectoral Assessments for consideration by the Municipal Corporation and the Regulating Entity, iii) understand and assess the rates presented by the service providers (the rates should be supported with business plans and investments resulting from municipal sectoral planning; and iv) address claims presented by the users, in case these have not adequately been addressed by service providers.
The ERSAPS has developed rules of operation and manuals for COMAS, USCL and TRC, and their members have been trained to understand, verify and endorse compliance by service providers. Both COMAS and USCL encourage meaningful participation by the citizenry, strengthening social oversight and ultimately increasing transparency, accountability and contributing to making public officials promote public integrity and become open government champions.
To ERSAPS, these entities are key to achieve meaningful participation and contribute to the oversight and control of water and sanitation service providers, and therefore there are ongoing traIning events for the members of COMAS, USCL and TRC.
 In 2003, the framework legislation for drinking water and sanitation (Decree 0118-2003) was enacted and the Regulating Entity for Water and Sanitation (ERSAPS) was created.