Private waterWhy does Ivan Collendavelloo want to privatise the CWA? Is he not capable of providing a basic service to the people or is the government really so desperate to raise funds to reduce national debt? Of course, the IMF supports his proposal because its hidden agenda is to provide low risk investment opportunities for transnational corporations to increase the wealth of their majority shareholders – the global elite.

Privatisation is promoted because it promises to deliver water for all 24/7. Who doesn’t want that? We are told that only the private sector has the investment capacity to modernise the distribution network. However, profit-driven operators also hike up prices and cut jobs.

Is there an alternative?

Effectiveness

The main problems with our public sector management are that it does not have world-class expertise and it is virtually unaccountable to the people. No amount of reports from international consultants, whose recommendations are hardly ever implemented, will improve the former. The latter means that senior civil servants put job security and privileges ahead of service to the country.

The solution is simple and has proven successful in other areas: hire a manager for the CWA who has international experience running a water company. While many may baulk at the salary required to attract someone of the right calibre, this is exactly what a privatised CWA would do. Private sector managers are not evil, fierce competition means they are extremely good at what they do: meeting targets. It’s just a question of setting the right ones.

Investment

The government ‘s problem isn’t insufficient funding but imprudent priorities. The smart thing to do is shift investment from Heritage “City”, which benefits a few, to public infrastructure, which benefits us all. If we need to raise finance, then which revenue stream is more secure: government renting buildings or people buying water? Government can – and should shrink – but who will go thirsty and shower less often?

Efficiency

Increasing efficiency means improving productivity and, without consuming more water – which we shouldn’t – that means fewer jobs. If we are going to subsidise employment, rather than over-staffing public utilities, why not retrain people to develop new economic sectors and give grants to entrepreneurs? Which generates the better the returns?

Pricing

Privatisation of essential services always leads to higher prices. Why shouldn’t it? If a company’s objective is to provide the best return to shareholders then what better way than to increase tariffs to the limit that the population can tolerate without risking re-nationalisation? But what if the shareholders are the people who use the water? Then the profit motive disappears and what matters most is quality and price.

If a public utility is providing profits to government then it is over-charging the people. This is essentially a stealth tax. If the public utility is making a loss then our taxes are subsidising it. Both are pointless.

The obvious solution is to set a target: a clean, constant supply with the lowest, break-even tariffs. They could be zero for our minimum requirements, subsidised by higher rates for excessive consumption. Water is an essential service, so why deny it to those living in absolute poverty because of their inability to pay?

Barriers to change

If we employ a manager from the private sector to run each public utility and they are answerable to us, then what role is there for an inexperienced minister who has no domain knowledge? Would he step down? More challenging, if the Canadian who reformed customs was right, there is an institutionalised “mafia” at the highest levels of our institutions serving their own self-interests. Is it even possible to prise them from their fiefdoms?

One approach would be to make all senior civil servants explain their wealth and remove them where appropriate via the Public Service Commission. We also have an energetic minister who is responsible for institutional reform. If he is not up to the task then let’s hire someone with a successful track record of reforming the civil service in another country. Surely there is a candidate – looking for a new challenge – who is willing to leave a drab and increasingly unsafe Europe to enjoy a tropical paradise?

Logical conclusion

We can replace nearly all ministers and many senior civil servants by private and public sector managers with world-class experience. The only ministries that need to be headed by a Mauritian citizen are defence and home and foreign affairs. Why not make them the responsibility of an elected president? Then what need is there of a prime minister?

If we want coordination across all ministries, why not hire someone with a proven track record in a complex conglomerate, perhaps even a transnational corporation? Mauritius has yet to produce someone like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew to implement our visions, but why not employ an expatriate with his skill-set? Again this won’t be cheap, but the cost would be nothing compared to how much we currently lose to inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Check the latest National Audit Report.

When our national chief executive and his or her management team are hired by and accountable to the people through the National Assembly, but not a part of it, then we will have achieved a landmark in the evolution of our democracy: separation of powers. Why did we ever expect our country to achieve its full potential when the government is drawn from a murky pool of only 70 individuals?

Our nation can be an increasingly corrupt plutocracy serving the local and global elite, or become an efficient and accountable social democracy serving the people. Which would you choose? There will be significant resistance to the greatest change since independence, but who can deny the will of the people? What a legacy it would be if our current Prime Minister gave us a referendum on the matter…