Strengthening public water in Africa: South South North networked model of Public-public Partnerships

Reclaiming Public Water book: Achievements, Struggles and Visions from Around the World
19 May 2011
Book

Samir Bensaid is author of the new chapter addition to the collaborative book project "Reclaiming Public Water"- part of TNI's Water Justice programme - which brings experience and insight from Morocco and Mauritania.

"While both North–South partnerships and SouthSouth Partnerships have strengths and limitations, linking these in networked models is an effective way to mobilise expertise and funding and achieve success. Such a networked partnership, involving six public water operators from Europe and two from Africa, was developed to improve access to water in Mauritania. The partnership rests on a solid basis of shared public service principles. A crucial factor in the partnership is the contribution of the Moroccan state water company ONEP, one of Africa’s best performing public water operators."

The international context

At the United Nations’ Millennium Summit held in September 2000, the world’s leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration aimed at reducing extreme poverty and setting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of the objectives of the MDGs aimed was to halve the number of people with no access to clean drinking water and sanitation by 2015. Various evaluation reportsi have underlined the fact that the countries of the South are far from achieving the MDGs on safe drinking water and sanitation; for the most part they are not even on the road to doing so. This is particularly true for the SubSaharan African countries. Certain recommendations were made to support countries of the South; these included the involvement of the private sector (commonly Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or Private Sector Participation (PSP)), essentially by delegating the public services’ mission of providing drinking water supplies. This approach was emphatically presented for many years as the magic solution to all the problems.

The Limits of PPPs

It is now obvious that public operators generally continue to play a key role in providing water services. Private or service companies are responsible for fewer than 1 in 100 new connections to water mains’ systemsii. This has led promoters of the PPP concept, such as the World Bank or the OECD, to conclude that the key players in the private sector have not been fully committed as they are unable to make enough profit or they do not have sufficient guarantees. This is because the economies of scale and the political and economic risks associated with the countries of the South have failed to reassure their shareholders. Another factor is that other, more profitable markets, such as China and Eastern Europe, are opening up. And the local private sector is relatively weak and insufficiently structured; there is almost no strategic vision that would encourage them to invest in a highly capitalintensive sector that would no doubt prove far less “profitable” than other, more enticing markets, for example property speculation.

As early as 2005, the World Bank concluded “the econometric evidence on the relevance of ownership suggests that in general, there is no statistically significant difference between the efficiency performance of public and private operators in this sector”.iii A more recent reportiv by the Development Centre of the OECD in 2008, based on 22 empirical test and 48 case studies in the Southern Mediterranean Region, reached a similar conclusion: private management of water services is not per se synonymous with efficiency and performance.

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