General News of Monday, 12 May 2003

Source: gna

Government must fund water supply- Coalition

The National Coalition Against Privatisation ofWater and the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), on Monday called on government to mobilize funds to revamp the Ghana Water Company (GWC) for an efficient service delivery.

This, it said, would rather help than to leave it in the hands of private investors to the detriment of the ordinary man.

The Coalition said this at a three-day conference to find ways of strengthening the network and involve more people in the fight against privatisation of water.

It noted that privatisation did not necessarily mean efficiency, adding that the idea was being mooted out to serve the selfish interests of some few people.

The conference under the theme "Securing The Right to Essential Services in Africa", brought together about 60 participants from 13 countries including Ghana, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Bolivia, South Africa, Brazil and Canada.

The conference would call attention to the government's plan in July 2003, calling for bids from four pre-qualified multinational water companies to lease Ghana's urban water system.

Mr. Al-Hassan Adam, an executive member of the Coalition said the hypocrisy surrounding the plan in the name of efficiency and affordability could not be overemphasised since people were rather going to make profit adding "the time to get them out is now."

He said international donors and lenders were backing a corporate take-over of services including provision of water, health care, energy and education by creating new aid programmes that directly promote either privatisation of resources and services or some other means of privatisation such as public private partnership.

Mr. Adam said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) preached good governance and participatory democracy whilst in another breath were leading a campaign to privatise services in Africa that stroked at the heart of the democratic process.

"African leaders are responding to pressure from powerful governments seeking to expand overseas markets" forgetting that when they were "locked-in" these processes could be irreversible.

Mr. Adam said the governments must consider whether public private partnership could serve the public interest or whether in their desperation to reduce their debt and obtain finance, they were relinquishing control over the resources and services most essential for health, livelihood and dignity.

He said Ghana must take a cue from the Ghana Telecom saga where the Malaysians messed everything and later had to leave a huge debt for the country to pay.

Mr. Adam said already about 450 million people in 29 countries face serious water shortages affecting both the wealthiest and poorest nations whose expanding economies and populations were chasing fewer sources of fresh water.

He said more than one billion people lack access to clean and affordable water and approximately 2.4 billion people lack access to proper sanitation services while over two million people, mostly children, die annually from diarrhoea related diseases to lack of access to clean water.

"In Ghana, formal statistics cite access to treated water as available to 62 to 70 percent in urban areas and 35 to 40 percent in rural areas.

However, in urban areas, only 40 percent of the population have water taps that flows. Seventy eight percent of the poor in urban areas do not have pipe-borne water, he said.

Ms. Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Programme (PCCMEEP), said the privatisation of water in countries like Buenos Aires and South Africa had resulted in public health crisis and social turmoil among other things.

She said the claim by the World Bank to let one billion people get water through privatisation was unfounded, adding that it was just a bunch of European and American contractors that were going to benefit.

Ms. Hauter said statistics showed that investment in water from the public sector had been declining since 1990 with government paying 65 to 90 percent with five percent from the private sector, and asked how the private sector with its five per cent improve water supply".