As a result of the free trade agreements with the European Union, called economic partnership agreements, regional integration in Southern Africa is in tatters. The question arises: what kind of integration would engender broad-based development?
TNI is advocating Public Public Partnerships (PUP) as an alternative policy to privatisation or to Public-Private Partnerships in water services as well as a concrete tool to work with partners to reform public water companies/utilities, improve services and realise the right to water on the ground. A public-public partnership (PUP) is simply collaboration between two or more public authorities or organizations, based on solidarity, to improve the capacity and effectiveness of one partner in providing public water or sanitation services. They have been described as a “peer relationship forged around common values and objectives, which exclude profit-seeking”. PUPs avoid the risks which are typically encountered in public-private partnerships: transaction costs, contract failure, renegotiation, the complexities of regulation, commercial opportunism, monopoly pricing, commercial secrecy, currency risk, and lack of public legitimacy. In general the objectives of PUPs are to improve the capacity of the assisted partner. In practice, PUPs' work can be divided into five broad categories: training and developing human resources, technical support on a wide range of issues, improving efficiency and building institutional capacity, financing water services, improving participation. Public Community Partnerships Public-communitarian partnerships (PCPs) are internationally referred to as public-public partnerships but PCPs has a stronger connotation of community. While government and public water authorities should adopt and implement a water delivery policy that prioritises serving the needs of rural communities, many state-owned utilities fail to serve hard-to-reach areas. Community-based water systems are bridging the gap in water service delivery in many parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. TNI has observed new forms of partnerships between public authorities and rural communities, in which the communities are engaged in the decision-making about water solutions, supported with public funding and expertise and are empowered to take responsibility for running water systems. Such partnerships can bring rapid and lasting improvements.
Public water and electricity are back in vogue. Yet many state-owned utilities are now undergoing corporatisation: they have legal autonomy and manage their own finances. Is this a positive development in the struggle for equitable public services? Or a slippery slope toward privatization?