From Privatisation to corporatisation

By Jorgen Eiken Magdahl

, by The Association for International Water Studies (FIVAS)

Exploring the strategic shift in neoliberal policy on urban water services

The 15th and 16th of March FIVAS launched and presented its new report at the alternative water forum FAME, a counter-event to theWorld Water Forum in Marseille, France. The report explores the development from privatisation to corporatisation, within neoliberal policy on urban water services in developing countries. The report calls for the water justice movement to update and adjust its strategy, in order to counter the neoliberal tactical shift towards corporatisation. Corporatisation reform entails the implementation of commercial neoliberal management principles within public sector water utilities.

This report documents the development within the World Bank’s neoliberal strategy on urban water services in developing countries and examines case studies of corporatisation projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. The study contributes to an understanding of corporatisation reform; as a strategic renewal of the neoliberal policy, to overcome problems encountered by the privatisation strategy. These problems made new water privatisation projects difficult to realise, and includes resistance against privatisation as well as the lack of interest from private water companies and private investments. Because corporatisation is a neoliberal reform within the public sector it is supposed to be less controversial than privatisation – and is employed to avoid resistance. The shift towards corporatisation is therefore a tactical move for the World Bank and the neoliberal policy to regain support, legitimacy and consent. The report also increases the understanding of different means used to ensure that the corporatisation policy succeeds. Firstly, The World Bank promotes and propagandises corporatisation to influence the authorities in developing countries. Secondly, corporatisation carries with it a «deepened» form of neo-liberalisation, with a more proactive use of state power – to fight the resistance by the poor against paying for water services. This refers especially to the active use of pre-paid meters (see picture) and water disconnections. Furthermore, the commercial management have led to high water prices with negative social impacts for the urban underclass.

In need of a counter-strategy

This report argues that the strategy of the water justice movement against neoliberal water services has largely focused and concentrated its efforts on privatisation – and therefore has to direct more attention towards resisting corporatisation. This is necessary for the counter-strategy to be sufficiently up-to-date, relevant and precise. The neoliberal project should not be allowed to succeed in its attempt to counter or circumvent resistance.

Read more on FIVAS

Download the report here