Pressure group pleads to avoid privatisation

United States consumer group Public Citizen is urging a conference of US Mayors to protect municipal water systems from privatisation.

As the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) gathers in Chicago, the group has sent a letter to over 40 of the conference leadership pleading with them to support proposals to establish a federal trust fund to finance water and wastewater infrastructure.

Public Citizen claims that private companies are lobbying the USCM’s water arm, the Urban Water Council, to convince it that privatised water would be a cost efficient solution to local budget crises.

Many US cities are struggling to get the necessary funding to maintain and upgrade existing water infrastructure, so for private companies, city Mayors are a viable business target.

“These private water providers are taking advantage of local officials who are desperate to keep their water systems up and running,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Water for All campaign.

“But, these companies exist to make money off our water systems, not to help mayors or consumers with clean and affordable water.”

Public Citizen is concerned that the USCM has more support for corporate-backed proposals to lift the cap on private activity bonds, a tax-free financing option, rather than for the federal trust funds which would keep the supply in public hands.

The group has released a report Waves of regret: What some citizens have learned and other cities should know about water privatisation fiascos in the United States, highlighting failed privatisation contracts in the US and analysing privatisation trends, developments and policies in the context of corporate strategies and track records.

“So-called public-private partnerships don’t exist on an equal playing field. We’ve seen too many examples of private companies making money and giving the city nothing in return,” said Hauter. “Privatisation of such an essential public resource is doomed to fail because water is not a commodity.”

By David Hopkins

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