Chetan Ramchurn

Turning a deaf ear to all those highlighting the obvious pitfalls of privatising water, this unpopular government fails to realise that it is again betraying those it was elected to protect.

The agenda has been on the wall for some time now. This is a government that has relinquished its role in favour of the private sector. Smart cities and the eagerness with which they were heralded by those in power were an indication that development would be outsourced to the private sector. The very composition of the newly constituted Economic Development Board (EDB) testifies to same with private sector actors, in majority, dictating which type of growth will be pursued by Mauritius. With such a government, public services are easy targets and their hollowing out achievable. Water is next on their plate. We should be concerned.

What is the problem at hand?

We need to improve our water storage capacity and replace old pipes. Does it require the expertise of the World Bank to handle same? Do we need to auction our public utilities to deal with a problem that as pipes are replaced will be solved? No. The World Bank privileges such Public-Private Partnerships where low income families could be potentially priced out and disconnected, which puts profitability as a key consideration on a necessity for every human being.

We are regressing. Instead of moving towards greater protection for Mauritians and declaring water as a human right and a common good as is the case in Uruguay, Ecuador and Bolivia where it is entrenched in the constitution, we are doing the exact opposite. But more importantly, this decision is not grounded in any form of research on the privatisation of water. In a report by the Transnational Institute (TNI), Public Services International Research Unit and the Multinational Observatory it has been found that 180 cities and localities in 35 countries had reverted to public ownership of water.

“Cities, regions and countries worldwide are increasingly choosing to close the book on water privatisation and […] by taking back public control over water and sanitation management. In many cases, this is a response to the false promises of private operators and their failure to put the needs of communities before profit.” Inflated profits, sustained by a price hike that will have to be borne by us, will act as bait for a partner is the next move.

Questionable stance

Collendavelloo is searching for the type of private partner which, while shouldering no risks in the installation of new pipes (at the heart of the issue as half the water is lost) or in the enhancing of  the infrastructure, will simply pad its wallet by handling the administrative and billing tasks. Looking for a collaborator that will have no role in addressing the main issue is questionable. Why do we need privatisation in this case? The minister merely refers to the World Bank when questioned. As if this is an institution that works for the greater good of emerging countries. And thus, we were fed a gloubi-boulga of an answer as justification for this dubious project; a mix of hubris and clichés about modernity which can only deepen our growing dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians.

“This thing about God giving us rain and we cannot give it to the private sector is a thing of Harish Boodhoo in 1982. Let’s forget about this. We have to be modern, we have to be efficient. And the only way you are going to go about it is with private sector participation. Yes, I have made up my mind and that is why I am a Minister.”

Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) First Session Tuesday 29 March 2016

Mercantilising Water

Activist Vandana Shiva highlights the trap of Public-Private partnerships laid by the World Bank which essentially partakes in the commodification of water supply;

“Privatization projects funded by the World Bank and other aid agencies are usually labeled “public-private partnerships.” The label is powerful, both because of what it suggests and what it hides. It implies public participation, democracy, and accountability. But it disguises the fact that public-private partnership arrangements usually entail public funds being available for the privatization of public goods.”

Neo-Liberal Agenda

Only Collendavelloo and those agreeing with him fail to see the hole they are digging for our country and for our citizens. But this is not a decision made out of an absence of knowledge of the consequences. This is an ideological statement that affirms that nothing is off limits. Hence, an institution meant to distribute water to everyone will be transformed into a profit centre. This, Shiva (2016) highlights, is the first step before corporatisation begins, jobs will be threatened and low income families will ultimately be priced out.

Barlow (2002) points out the change of philosophy when the shift from public to private domain is activated and short term profit seeking trumps long term sustainability;

“Maximizing profit is the prime goal, not ensuring sustainability or equal access to water. Management of water resources, therefore, is based on market dynamics of increasing consumption and profit maximization, rather than on long-term sustainability of a scarce resource for future generations.”

No pasarán!

Vance (2016) avers that this change from public to private causes “the psychological space of what can be imagined as collective rights, or what we might term “the commons”, shrinks ever further”. This is what is at play. If Mauritians succumb to these flimsy arguments by another calamitous government that is happy to propound the agenda of the World Bank and the local capitalists, we will be the ones left reeling in the years to come. Ar nou non!

Appendix:

 

  • Barlow C, 2002, Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, 2005 Edition, The New Press, New York
  • Shiva V, 2016, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit, Reprint Edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California
  • Jagatsingh S, 2017, Lepep Not Mandated To Sell Any Part of the CWA. Le Mauricien – Forum, May 18, 2017.

<http://morisk.blogspot.com/2017/05/lepep-not-mandated-to-sell-any-part-of.html> Accessed on 16th of April 2018

  • Vance C, 2016, The Essential Struggle, Accessed on the 16th April 2018

<https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/04/flint-water-detroit-privatization-charges/>

< https://www.tni.org/files/download/heretostay-en.pdf>

  • Rector J, 2016, Accessed on the 16th of April 2018 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/water-detroit-flint-emergency-management-lead-snyder-privatization/
  • Iqbal Ahmed Khan, 2018, Collendavelloo’s time-bomb, Accessed on the 16th of April 2018

< https://www.lexpress.mu/blog/329258/collendavelloos-time-bomb>