When Legislature Concords without particulars; the citizens suffer from bad laws

Jefferson G.Togba/Part-time Lecturer, UMU/

Capitol Building, the home of the Liberian Lawmakers
Capitol Building, the home of the Liberian Lawmakers

The Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) has been heavily criticized for many years for resulting in poverty. In addition, for developing or third world countries like Liberia, why should we privatized life’s most essential contributing factor of life? I urge the ruling establishment and the legislature not support such from the statutory institution responsible for supplying water throughout the length and birth of Mama Liberia.

If water indeed is life then we the critical mind of Liberia insist on our law makers not to support any bill from the executive arm (LWSC) to privatize the institution solely responsible for providing water to Liberians. I think our law makers should first make it obligatory to employ qualified, competence and specialized staffers and centralize technocrats to work with every legislator to ensure quality law making and eventual guarantee concurrence. Since they are largely engage with committee rooms’ deliberations on other over sight responsibilities.

PRIVATIZATION, the ideology known as neoliberalism and also known as the “Washington Consensus” Structural Adjustment Policies/programs (SAPs) have been imposed to ensure debt repayment and economic restructuring. But the way it has happened has required poor countries to reduce spending on things like health, education, road infrastructure, electricity and other needed development, while debt repayment and other economic policies have been made the priority.  We already don’t have afforded health neither a functional health system, therefore, the Liberia Water and Sewage Corporation (LWSC) wants to operate by example. No water (LWSC) privatization.

However, this so called Washington consensus has forced Africa if not Liberia to be lagging and struggling with the much needed development. Liberia does not want to be re-colonized given that colonization has no place in modernity. We must stand against the crafters of such an ugly beginning for the loving people of mama Liberia. Water is life, therefore life is water.

Hence, World Bank has predicted that by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will run short of fresh drinking water. As a result the Fortune magazine recently defined water as “the oil of the 21st century. On the other hand, regrettably, this is not the thinking of corporate executives and increasingly, government officials throughout the world. Instead, more and more of them are proposing to transfer the control of this precious resource from the public sector to the private sector like our own LWSC suggestion.

Given the track record of corporations that have begun to privatize water systems, and particularly, how privatization has wreaked economic, social and environmental chaos on other utility industries. Presently, there is no reason to believe that corporations will demonstrate more responsible stewardship practices if they gain control of drinking water systems. With each drop of water that falls into the hands of private interests, any sustainable solution to the global water crisis moves further and further from the public’s grasp.

In effect, the IMF and World Bank have demanded that poor nations lower the standard of living of their people…what studies the LWSC management has done to recommend and subsequently for the Senate (The House of Elders) to concord? The question is, if Liberia privatizes everything then where is the social contracts deliverables between the government and its citizens? If you elect me (my government or administration), I (we) will give you (the Citizens) quality and affordable education, health, road infrastructure, electricity, Safe and clean drinking water, housing for low income earners, access to cheap public transport, price control etc.

“Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other peoples’ raw materials and infrastructure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only a limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters’ income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings. The IMF cannot seem to understand that investing in … [a] healthy, well-fed, literate population … is the most intelligent economic choice a country can make, according to Susan George, A Fate Worse Than Debt, (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), pp. 143, 187, 235  

The Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) has been heavily criticized for many years for resulting in poverty. In addition, for developing or third world countries like Liberia, why should we privatized life’s most essential contributing factor of life? Liberians cannot and must not rely on other but the Government of Liberia for safe and clear drinking because of this, there has been an increased dependency on the richer nations. The IMF and World Bank’s claim that they will reduce poverty, in spite of many efforts poverty still a major challenge for Africa and Liberia so to speak.

In view of the fact that its government morale and constitution obligation to its citizens. Liberia has lot more to privatize than water if she so desired to foster this strategy (development agenda). Has the Liberia Water and Sewer Cooperation (LWSC) forgotten to know that water means life? If water indeed is life then we the critical mind of Liberia insist on our law makers not support any bill calling on them from executive arm (LWSC) to privatize the institution solely responsible providing water to Liberians.

Why the privatization of drinking water supplies could spell doom for many of Liberia’s four million-plus people. Members of the executive or legislative branch should look at privatization in the context of institution established for profit motive but lots resources and functional expertise. Why can we think of our only international airport and seaports? Why not our road networks to introduce the “Tug system” for a certain year…twenty or thirty years? These are developmental project that our national budget cannot afford now. Even if we could, these are areas that required huge spending and support Public Private Partnership to accelerate sustain economic growth and prosperity. Why not the Liberia Electricity Corporation lagging the electrifying mama Liberia, Telecommunication, Liberia Petroleum and Refinery Company, Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation and other sectors like those require heavy funding?

I was taken aback when some senators based their “arguments of supports and subsequent concurrent” on the recommendation of LWSC but not on research findings from other emerging nations if not highly industrialized countries that have the histories and accrued benefits of privatization. Why each Senator office does have research officer? Our Senators must see beyond the document/bill proposed and presented because their supporting facts are not limited to what is before them.

The most essential question before us is, have they (the Senators) made independent research as to what sector or public institution requires privatization or are senators so excited on just receiving “BILL” and legislating them? Ever since their recent debate on LWSC’s privatization recommended request to the Liberian Senate strongly suggest their insensitivity to Liberian right to water. If they want to give in to the LWSC management’s recommendation then the Ministry of Land, Mine and Energy will suggest LAND privatization as well as Forestry Development Authority. The Ministry of Public Works and MLME have failed to provide proper cartography and zoning to land purchasers like the LWSC too.

Take for instance, the American, Nigerian; the British parliamentarians always surround themselves with knowledgeable minds so that their arguments and support for any bill won’t easily get defeated.   It does not sound any salient in this Liberia for water to be privatized. Why must it always be the case of gaining from the ordinary Liberian people and not those making extraordinary salary, benefit and huge allowances like the legislature? They are quick to concord when it does not involve them especially when their water bill will eventually be paid by the ordinary taxpayers.

There are lesson from other countries for Liberia and Liberians, the taxpayer

In the United States and other countries, as a way for private water companies to maximize profits. The bottom line for these companies is profit, which translates into higher prices and inferior service for consumers. The companies are under no obligation to provide water or service when water is defined as a marketable commodity rather than a human right. Thus, when consumers can no longer afford the price increases, water delivery is simply shut off. The water companies justify these increases as necessary to offset the costs of upgrading the infrastructure, profits and executive salaries continue to grow. In the decade following the 1989 privatization of England and Wales’ water system (See England and Wales’s history), water companies there did not invest in infrastructure, claiming profitability would be compromised.

We are aware that profit motive drives the corporate agenda rather than serving the public interest, environmental standards are continually compromised. What this means is that public health is compromised for the sake of higher profits. A notable example comes from the small town of Walkerton in Ontario, Canada, where seven people died and 2,300 others became ill as a result of E. coli contamination in the drinking water. A&L Laboratories, the private company contracted to test the water, knew that the water was contaminated (see Canada, in 2000). But under regulations intended to encourage privatization, the company was not required to alert government officials about a public health crisis in the making.

Have we forgotten to note that companies are accountable to shareholders, not consumers? In many cases, the deals that water companies make with government agencies include exclusive access to distribution for 25 or 30 years, effectively sanctioning a monopoly. These private monopolies tend to undermine accountability and result in poor customer service. Puerto Ricans(see Water Privatization) experienced the disastrous effects of a private water monopoly when, in 1995, Puerto Rico contracted the management of their water authority, PRASA, to the largest water multinational in the world, Vivendi, through a subsidiary now called Compania de Aguas.. Consumer complaints and inquiries were regularly ignored, and there were accounts of citizens not receiving water, but being charged all the same.

Privatization fosters corruption since the very structures of privatization encourage corruption (See and see). Checks and balances that could prevent corruption, such as accountability and transparency, are conspicuously missing from the process. With water contracts being worked out behind closed doors, executives and government officials are free to make deals in their own, rather than in the public, interest.

Bribery is commonplace during the bidding process, which is generally closed to the public. Despite calls to expose the bidding process to the light of day, water companies claim that doing so would damage their commercial interests. For the same reason, the water contracts themselves are not made available to the public — even though the public is subject to the terms of these contracts (See).

Privatization reduces local control and Public Rights When; water services are privatized, public control is transferred to a corporation, be it domestic, foreign or transnational. Once water rights has been signed over, very little can be done to ensure that the private company will work in the best interest of the community. Again, the prime directive of private water companies is to maximize profits, not protect consumers.

Even though, Private financing costs more than government financing but when water services are privatized, there is often a false perception that the financial burden has shifted from the public to the private sector. So the story goes, the company promises to repair, upgrade and maintain infrastructure, seemingly saving the taxpayers money. In reality, the public pays for these projects through their monthly bill payments. When the Swedish public water system was compared to its privately owned counterpart in England, the study revealed that the public system had lower operation and maintenance costs, and that customers paid less for their water. In England, both the operation costs and customer rates were more than double than those in Sweden (see, see & See). Howbeit, Public financing is a politically sensitive issue because of upward pressure on taxes.

Privatization leads to job losses since it (Privatization) often leads to massive layoffs, at times putting service and water quality at risk due to understaffing. Layoffs are commonly used to reduce costs and increase profits. In most cases, the companies responded to demands for lower rates by laying off employees (See).

Privatization is difficult to reverse; once a municipality signs over part or all of its water system to a private water company, withdrawing from the agreement borders on the impossible. If the company fails to live up to its end of the bargain, proving breach of contract is a difficult, complicated and costly proposition.

Privatization can leave the poor with no access to clean Water Contrary to public assertions, the role of the IMF and World Bank in water privatization arrangements in the developing world actually results in a reduction of access to water for the poor(See). “Structural-adjustment” programs forced upon governments seeking loans often include water privatization as a condition for these loans. Impoverished, politically enfeebled countries are hardly in a position to refuse the conditions of the IMF and World Bank, as doing so would cause them to default on their debts. As a result, the IMF and World Bank are able to provide lucrative and virtually risk-free contracts for multinational corporations (see & see). For instance, Bolivia’s (See Bolivia Water Crisis) public water system was recently privatized as a condition for a World Bank loan.

Privatization would open the door to bulk water exports but the same World Bank has predicted that by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages. Even today, large masses of people around the globe lack access to clean water. Population increases and the dwindling supply of clean fresh water creates a formula for disaster, providing multinational corporations with vast opportunities to reap hundreds of billions of dollars dealing in what Fortune magazine calls the “oil of the 21st century.”26 It goes without saying that those who control this precious resource will exercise economic and political power at almost unimaginable degrees.

I think our law makers should first make it obligatory to employ qualified, competence and specialized staffers and centralize technocrats to work with every legislature to ensure quality law making before concurring eventually. Since they are largely engage with committee rooms’ deliberations on other over sight responsibilities. To conclusively conclude we say no water (LWSC) privatization in Liberia because Water is one of the most basic human needs. Many nations and traditions, in fact, consider water a human right. Therefore, we can’t give away this right.

Written by Jefferson G.Togba Tel:+231886583160 Email: togba26@yahoo.com, deatogba@gmail.com; Skype:jefferson.deanna

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