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World Bank presents a new study at the WWF  (Lest 2992 ganger) Skriv ut

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Trude  Tirsdag 17. Mars 2009, kl. 17:47

By: Jørgen Eiken Magdahl, Tuesday, March 17, 2009,

On the first day of the World Water Forum the World Bank together with the
International Water Association kicked of their efforts over the next week
by focusing on privatization of water and sanitation services, as so many
previous Forums? have before them. This took place at the session called
?Towards a Vibrant Local Market Place ? Opportunities and trends,
experiences to date, and policy options for the future?. Philippe Marin from
the World Bank opened the ?ball? by presenting what he termed an extensive
study of experiences with privatization contracts based on objective
analysis. This provides a smoke screen disguising the neoliberal biased
?scientific? approach.

The World Bank study acknowledged that privatization has not been the magic
formula it was wrongly presented as by the Bank in the early 90s. This
represents a more defensive and careful approach to the history writing of
the experiences with privatization, often having been arrogant and in denial
of the flaws and the disastrous outcomes of such a strategy for poor people
lacking the ability to pay increased tariffs. However, ignorant is still an
appropriate word to describe the methodology and the way this study was
conducted. On those premises it is not surprising that the overall
conclusion is that privatization reforms still should and can contribute to
ensure access to water.  The World Bank is still walking down the same path,
characterized by a fixation with quantitative data in the form of measuring
rates of bill collection, non revenue water, water losses and other
indicator of so called ?efficiency?. At the outset of the presentation Marin
emphasized that the study was undertaken on the basis of ?objective
performance data?. In other word the World Bank continues to think inside
the box, where ?efficiency? measurement is ?king?. This is not objective, as
wrongfully claimed ? but instead tied to an ideological obsession within the
Bank related to neoliberal ideas about operational and economic efficiency
without also looking at and integrating social and welfare considerations.
It is not only a numbers game, but must also take into account the
qualitative (data) context in developing countries. Consequently, important
aspects are bypassed - following the World Bank?s mode of thought and line
of inquiry ? such as the fact that poor people often do not have ability to
pay for the increased prices in the wake of implementing privatization.
Thus, privatization leads to a real and substantial socio-economic exclusion
from the deadly important access to water and sanitation. Running counter to
this Marin was still claiming that ?price increase does not mean anything?.
The comment was a response to the findings of the (still quantitative)
report data showing that a tariff increases followed the act of
privatization in all cases. Marin explained ?that this was of course not
surprisingly when earning money is what private companies is set out to do?,
like he was a rocket scientist.

The neglect of socio-economic contextual issues was rejected by water
justice activists in the audience, as was also the depolitization of the
study presented. The political and democratic citizenship aspects and a lack
of substantial participation were not addressed. It is tune with the World
Bank overall attempts, in water and other sectors, to consistently
depolitize the debate about development.

This takes us to the a more general remark, which is the total lack of
taking the political context into consideration - not looking at
implications of relative power differences, where the interests of private,
wealthy consumers is favored over disempowered poor people - neither
providing them with cross subsidized services nor a voice. Again, this is
ideological and value laded corresponding to a neoliberal individualistic
and voluntaristic approach where power difference and structural
economic/political constraint for poor people is absent. Therefore, there is
a need to look beyond the immediate hang-up with numbers and figures, also
incorporating an analysis of structures that leads to economic and political
unevenness. This might for example be neoliberal discursive ideology or the
economic structures pressuring for complying with a ?demand? of being
competitive in an international economy. Both might lead to cut-backs in
welfare and social spending, hindering subsidized access to water for poor
people, in an effort to follow the mantra of national macro-economic
stability and tight social budgets. For the last and final time, this is
revealing the underlying and covered-up ideologically neoliberal
?scientific? bias of the alleged ?objective performance data? in the study
on privatization. If this was a genuine attempt and desire to study the
experiences with water privatization, it should at least have been
undertaken by the World Bank?s independent evaluation office. But then I
guess the outcome would not have been as the Bank intended, when they and we
are aware that this World Bank?s Operations Evaluation Department have put
forward a critique and a different conclusion in a (2005) report summarising
recent evaluations of the World Bank?s ?development effectiveness?. The
report states that the record of attempts to unbundle and privatise
infrastructure has been poor, especially in water (privatising ineffective
government corporations has been very mixed, and ?voucher privatisation? has
been the worst of all). It also says that ?the record shows persistent
over-optimism on privatization? and recommends a rethink on the private
provision of infrastructure.