A critique of the Water Operators Partnerships in Latin America and the Caribbean (WOP-LAC)

14 September 2012
Article

This discussion paper aims to generate much-needed discussions about the experiences with Water Operators Partnerships (WOPs) projects on the ground, in this case in Latin America. The paper highlights a number of serious problems with the WOP-LAC projects, many of which are run by commercially oriented or private water operators.

Key arguments of the report
The Water Operators Partnership in Latin America and the Caribbean (WOP-LAC) is a member of the Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance (GWOPA) and should adhere to its principles and objectives. However, it has been institutionally captured by powerful groups that have a record of promoting neoliberal water sector reforms. As a result, WOP-LAC is dominated by private and commercially oriented public utilities.

  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), based in Washington DC, hosts the secretariat as a core funder of WOP-LAC. The IADB’s sector policy is geared towards competition, which is at odds with the GWOPA principles of solidarity and inclusiveness. 
  • The control of the steering committee is in the hands of a small number of powerful sector institutions and commercially oriented water operators. Trade unions and civil society organisations are not on the steering committee but private water lobby group Aquafed has participated in meetings. 
  • WOP-LAC partnership projects tend to be in countries preferred by the IADB and the IADB tends to promote WOPs with existing project partners. Partnerships and training workshops narrowly focus on management efficiency rather than pro-poor themes, despite recommendations by the GWOPA Assembly to focus on the latter. 
  • WOP projects implemented under WOP-LAC have been mostly simple, short-term and one-dimensional exchanges that have not led to sustainable twinnings and have had little impact. 
  • With the creation of national WOP platforms, WOP-LAC favours countries with strong foreign relations and trade ties to the United States and does not give attention to countries with progressive governments. 
  • Strong partners / tutors in WOPs are mainly commercialised public utilities with aggressive international expansion plans. Some WOPs raise concerns about these public utilities’ potential use as entrance points for future commercial projects. 
  • These problems are visible in the two best-practice examples of WOPs highlighted by WOP-LAC; one involves a private utility and the other concerns outsourcing of infrastructure development. · Civil society and trade unions do not participate in WOP-LAC’s structure or partnership projects. While participation is not streamlined in GWOPA principles either, it should be a central component.
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