Monday, 14 June 2010

Water privatisation - the New Zealand story

Above are the logos of two water organisations currently involved
around water privatisation in New Zealand.
Protests were held across New Zealand on Saturday.
On the left is the logo of Right to Water
On the right .is the logo of Water Pressure Group.

Protests over water privatisation fears

Below is the speech given by Maria McMilland of Right to Water
in Wellington on Saturday.

 I stand here in great sadness.

A bill has passed its first reading in Parliament that if passed into
legislation will allow councils to privatise water.

It reforms the Local Government Act 2002 and lets councils contract out
supply and management of water supply for 35 years, up from 15 years.

And it specifically removes the clauses that say councils who contract
out aspects of water supply must retain ownership and control of water.

And changes to consultation requirements, also in the bill, we suspect
will allow councils to do this without asking anybody.

This is privatisation. Act and National are lying and saying it is
something else about flexibility of water delivery and removing barriers
and efficiency.

The long-term contracts this Bill allows for are the most common form of
water privatisation in the world.

The fights you hear about that are going on all over the world around
water privatisation, in Bolivia, and South Africa, and India. In Canada
and in towns across the United States, in Australia and in Latin
America, in Ghana and in Turkey are about councils and governments
passing over control and ownership of water through long term leases
exactly as allowed for in the proposed laws.

And the movement of those who believe water belongs to people and the
planet and not to those who want to make a profit from it are among the
biggest grassroots movements of our time. Because water privatisation is
costing the health and livelihoods and lives of millions of people
across the world. And it is destroying aquifers, and rivers and lakes.

And it is allowing for water to be taken from communities who need it
and have always looked after it, and be instead given to corporations to
try and slake their unquenchable thirst for profit.

Let's not go there.

If the government passes this bill, the Wellington City Council could
contract out water to a private company for the next 35 years.

A corporation would own water until I was 75.

Water would be run for profit until my four-year-old daughter would be
just about to turn 40.

Water would be managed with the interests of shareholders prioritised
above all other interests until her 18-month-old sister would be 36.

And probably, looking at the experience of other countries, it would be
35 years of the company asking for more money than their contract
stipulates. And 35 years of the company saying it can’t meet the
environmental standards outlined in the contract. The company saying it
needs to increase costs to water users again and again and again, as
that is the only revenue stream available to it.

And during those 35 years, the council having lost its expertise in
water management would have to agree to all the conditions laid out by
the company because it has a population that needs water every hour of
every day and it would be beholden to the company to provide that water.

And overseas when councils and governments have tried to break contracts
with private sector companies, because the companies have done so
poorly, those companies have threatened to sue for lost earnings or they
have sued.

And when I’m 75 and my children all grown up, at the end of the
contract, would the council be able to take back control of the water?
No. It would be in no position to take back control of the water because
it would have lost the knowledge and the expertise and the mechanisms to
deliver water.

Be very clear this bill is not about efficiency, or saving money, or
transparency. This is about private sector, after decades of lobbying,
finally getting their hands around the neck of our water sector.

It is about companies gaining access to the unbelievable profits
available to anyone who is able to sell people something they can’t
avoid buying.

After decades neoliberalism and the ideas of corporatisation and
privatisation and user-pays firmly embedded in New Zealand psyche,
corporations and those acting in their interests are willing now to
overtly push the ludicrous and horrible idea that water belongs in the

But water isn’t like other goods. It doesn’t belong in the marketplace.
Even within the rationale of market economics, water is a natural
monopoly. And natural monopolies cannot be trusted to the market or to
private sector providers because the temptation to exploit the role as
provider of natural monopoly is considered too great.

Water isn’t like other goods. It is basis of all life. It is a public
good. It is a human right that underpins all other human rights.

If passed, this is the end of water as know it.

Water will be owned and controlled by the private sector. It will be run
for profit. It will be managed with no accountability to the community.

The fate of water will not be decided by the people who need water to
survive – to drink, to clean, to wash their children or to water their

It will be decided in the corporate boardrooms of multinational
companies acting in the interest of their shareholders.

It is likely it will be decided by someone working for a subsidiary of
Veolia or Suez as these are the two companies that dominate the global
water industry worth something like three trillion US dollars.

And in the boardrooms, behind closed doors, under the protection of
commercial sensitivity clauses all the conversations about a good clean
water supply as the most basic of community needs are lost. Lost the
notion of reticulated water supply as the most important public health
mechanism and something we all benefit from.

Lost the conversations about how we protect the integrity of New
Zealand’s freshwater. Lost the conversations about protecting
biodiversity in our streams and rivers and lakes. Lost the conversations
about customary rights.

Lost the conversations about equity and justice and lost the notion of
water as a fundamental human right. Lost the notion that water belongs
forever and always to the next generation.

Lost the notion of water as a taonga.

In its place the notion of water as a consumer good. As something with a
price. As something that goes to the highest bidder. As something
managed with profit in mind.

Let’s stop this bill.

Let’s write submissions and talk to the select committee.

But let’s organise meeting and actions as well.

Because this is water privatisation and the government has no right to
privatise water. Because it is not theirs to give away.

Because once water is gone it’ll be gone for ever.

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