How state agents view the role and responsibility of the state contributes to shape the outcome of water sector reform in developing countries. This is concluded in a doctoral thesis, in Peace- and Development studies at Gothenburg University, that investigates efforts to create sustainable systems for water services provision in Niger.
One of the United Nations millennium development goals is to increase people's access to safe drinking water. To achieve the target global strategies have largely focused on institutional reform and responsibilisation. These strategies concern privatisation and decentralisation of certain functions in the delivery chain, as well as efforts to increase national ownership of policies and strategies in the sector.
Previous studies of global strategies have investigated the lack of adaptation to local circumstances, or focused mainly on effects on local access to water. In her thesis Stina Hansson is focusing on how the global strategies are percieved and dealt with by state agents in the Nigerien water sector. She states that state agents play a central role in the way policies and strategies take shape in practice.
My study shows that reform receives specific meanings depending on how state agents view the possibility for the state, as well as for themselves as state agents, to take responsibility in the sector. It depends on how they see the role of the state in relation to donors, as well as to the population and private actors, Stina Hansson says.
For example, on the basis of Niger's marginal economic position the state agents don't see a possibility to take responsibility for achieving set targets. Instead, they see their role as to act rationally on the basis of the constrained circumstances of the Nigerien state. How they perceive the capacity of the population also shape what the state agents consider that the responsibility of the state must be.
Delegation of responsibility and impersonal contracts must, according to the state agents, be complemented by a state that can govern water services provision through personal presence and knowledge of the population, Stina Hansson says.
In relation to the donors the state agents ask for a possibility to act responsibly, partly by being allowed to perform their tasks but also through regular audits of their work.
In order for them to imagine Nigerien state responsibility it is crucial that the state agents can see the state as a central actor at the same time as different functions are delegated to local and private actors, as a result of the constraints of a state that lacks necessary resources.