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Commentary

Alternatives to water privatization

In 1997, the Philippine government privatized the operations of its publicly-owned water service provider for Metro Manila. The aim was to reduce government’s role in the provision of public services. Two decades later, however, the goals of Philippine water privatization continue to fall short of its promises, to the detriment of consumers (See “Water privatization has not delivered,” Opinion, 3/14/19).

The Philippine experience is mirrored in the experiences of other countries. This has led to initiatives for alternatives to water privatization by citizens’ movements and local governments, to bring back ownership and control of water services to the public sector and guided by the principle that access to water is a human right, rather than a market transaction driven by the corporate profit motive.

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The Philippine situation reflects the state of water privatization around the world. In fact, however, public delivery of water services remains a viable and sustainable form of public service. Balanya et al. (2005) document successful cases of people-centered participatory public models of water services in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Dargantes, Batistel and Manahan (2012) surveyed public sector water service delivery in Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia covering 646 listed water utilities servicing 10 million people. Kishimoto, Petitjean and Steinfort (2017) reported initiatives to reverse the privatization process in 45 countries.

The following alternatives to water privatization thus arise:

Public/nonprofit partnerships (PuNPP). In PuNPPs, “one or more public sector agency works with one or more civil society or community-based organization to deliver water services.” The joint management between local communities and the water utility is “based on equity, resource management, reduction of water consumption, improvement of reliability, and reduction in operating and maintenance costs.”

Public-Public partnerships (PuP). This involves collaboration among public sector agencies in collectively developing performance benchmarks, implementing tertiary-level treatment of wastewater and reducing demand for piped water, use of excess water, and access to other water sources such as natural springs.

Single nonprofit agencies (SiNPs). Some NGOs, acting as SiNPs, “have the capacity to develop noncommercialized water systems” by establishing water harvesting structures and check dams using an integrated water resources management approach, water system improvement, and securing dependable water supply from third-party bulk providers.

Deprivatization and/or remunicipalization. A popular alternative is deprivatization and/or remunicipalization—that is, returning public services back to government. This involves public ownership, public management and democratic control that is transparent and accountable. There have been 835 successful remunicipalization cases in 45 countries, of which 267 were in the water sector in 37 countries, benefiting more than 100 million people.

The above experiences show existing and viable public ownership of water services and success in preventing privatization. The key is cooperation between citizens’ movements, public officials, water service workers and communities, and guided by the values of participation, empowerment, equity, accountability, quality or safety, efficiency, transparency, solidarity and replicability.

Eduardo C. Tadem, PhD, is convenor, Program on Alternative Development, University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) and retired professor of Asian Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman. Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, PhD, is professor of political science, UP Diliman and executive director, UP CIDS. This commentary is excerpted from a research study of UP CIDS, the Department of the Interior and Local Government-National Capital Region (DILG-NCR) and the Office of the Quezon City Mayor on “The Administrative Region of the Republic of the Philippines: A Study on the Implications of Federalism in the National Capital Region and Considerations for Forming the Federal Administrative Region.” The project is funded by DILG-NCR.

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TAGS: Eduardo C. Tadem, Inquirer Commentary, Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, water privatization
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