Reclaiming public services
In the country last week were experts who spoke about how public services have been or are being reclaimed by citizens who had been in the grip of private enterprises that made profit out of dispensing public services. The gathering was a good prelude to this week’s activities commemorating 1986 People Power that reclaimed freedom and democracy and ended more than a decade of tyranny and martial rule.
The event was initiated by the Asia Europe Peoples Forum’s Thematic Circle on Social Justice. Founded in 1996, AEPF is an interregional network of people’s movements, trade unions, activists, scholars and parliamentarians in Asia and Europe. I have been in on its activities these many years, attending some of its events here and abroad — how it engages governments in Asia and Europe on issues such as social and economic justice, trade and corporate accountability, climate justice, peace, security, democracy and human rights.
Tackled at the recent event was how public services are increasingly becoming inaccessible to millions worldwide. Healthcare, education, water, electricity, housing and transportation — services indispensable to a life of dignity and security — have become expensive while in private hands and as states continue to cut subsidies.
Privatization, marketization and commodification, AEPF notes, have become conditions imposed by multilateral financial institutions for financially strapped borrower-countries. States relinquish to profit-making private corporations the task and duty to provide public services. Public-private partnerships (PPP) have become the name of the game. Vulnerable sectors such as the unemployed, the sick and elderly, those with disabilities, and ethnic minorities are affected by private-sector takeover.
If the state, the duty bearer, cannot guarantee democratization of public services, what are the “doable alternatives” in which people can take part? How do people “reclaim” the services that the state is supposed to deliver? (I could not help thinking of the almost-daily multiple breakdown of the MRT system on Edsa, the metro’s main artery, which hundreds of thousands distressed commuters navigate daily.)
The “reclaim” concept is not new and has not remained a concept. It is, in fact, doable, as proven by successful cases in countries where people’s resolve and participation made them possible. Speakers at the gathering shared their experiences and insights.
The research and advocacy group Transnational Institute (TNI) has recorded at least 835 examples of what it calls “(re)municipalization of public services” worldwide in recent years, which involved more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries.
TNI uses “(re)municipalization” to refer to “the process of bringing previously private or privatized services which are under private control and management at the local level.” Other newly coined terms are “renationalization” and “deprivatization.” The latter is “an overarching term for remunicipalization, renationalization and citizen-led reclaiming of public services, all of which are oriented towards fighting against the ills of privatization.”
To cite a few cases: In Oslo, Norway, waste collection was taken from a service provider and remunicipalized in 2017. In 2015, the government of the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, India, began delivering on its promises of affordable healthcare by putting up 1,000 community clinics.
Grenoble (France) became a pioneer in water remunicipalization when it ended a corrupt contract with a multinational provider in the early 2000s. In Lithuania, central heating was remunicipalized after investigation showed manipulation of heating prices.
The book “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation” (2017), edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean, is a great reference for “untold stories” on reclaiming successes.
Ongoing beside the People Power Monument on Edsa are round-the-clock, nine-day fasting and prayer activities, called “Dasal at Ayuno Laban sa ChaCha, Para sa Demokrasya: Pagaamin, Pagtitika, Pagbabago at Pagkakaisa.” It is led by Gomburza, a group of priests, religious and lay people who believe in prayer and action to make this country a better place for all. Join the prayers and reflections at any time of day or night. The activities end before noon of Feb. 25, the 32nd anniversary of People Power.
I was present at the Feb. 22, 1986, breakaway press conference in Camp Aguinaldo and the rest of the days that spelled the beginning of the end.
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