January 2012        

SIPTU warns about the danger of privatising water

The SIPTU sector organiser Michael Wall told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht on 10 January that handing over water services to the private sector would be a “fundamental mistake.” He described the threat to water services from attempts by a group of civil servants within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to force the system into the hands of private companies.
     Despite overwhelming evidence from Irish and international studies of their ineffectiveness and higher costs, the “public-private partnership” funding model for water service infrastructure development was the stated “preferred option” of the Water Services Investment Unit of the Department of the Environment.
     “Since 2001 there has been growing concern at the clear evidence that the department itself has a clear and indeed biased stand on its preference for the PPP model,” Michael Wall said.
     Over recent years, workers’ representatives had begun to “notice a striking similarity” in procurement reports being produced by local authorities around the country when seeking funding for water infrastructural projects from the department.
     These reports invariably sought public finance for private companies to design, build and operate (DBO) water facilities.
     “Local authorities were given a clear signal that if they wished to see any hope of progressing their water projects it was via a PPP, and DBO in particular, as the only option.”
     He said that the department had engaged the services of the consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper to assist in the evaluation of PPP projects, and that this company was also using the term “preferred option” in relation to DBO-type PPP contracts.
     “Through all the involvement of our members in every county we sought evidence from the department as to where was the evidence of the performance of PPPs.
     “Where was the evidence that Ireland was unique in the world and PPPs worked in the people’s interest there? Where was the data-base to show the financial benefits of the DBO model over conventional?” Such evidence had not been provided to the workers.
     Drawing attention to specific examples of the failings of the PPP model in Cos. Cork and Wicklow, Michael Wall said: “We have no doubt that in future years this will be exposed as a scandal and an abuse of public moneys.”
     SIPTU also drew attention to the fact that Price Waterhouse Cooper has now been engaged by the present Government to advise on the development of Irish Water, a new state-owned company to manage the country’s water resources.

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