(This is taken from the blog of An-Christin Sjölander, journalist in Swedish Trade Union Magazine Kommunalarbetaren)
So here they are again. At the World Water Forum.
It is incredible that they have got the energy. David Hall and David Boys never ever give up: The public sector is the solution to bring water to people.
I have known David Hall since 1984 when he was working for the trade union Nupe in London. He gave me a hint to write about the striking cleaners at Barking hospital in London, a strike not very well known compared with the miners’ strike that year. The cleaners refused to accept the reduced wages that a private company offered them. I will never forget how they threw stones at a bus with the windows covered by wooden boards. The scabs were in the bus.
Photo: David Boys and David Hall
Now I suddenly discover David Hall, looking into the press room at the water forum. He has a rucksack, an orange grey jacket, red shirt and black hair. He even seems to wear the same glasses.
Nowadays he is the head of PSIRU, a research unit at Greenwich University. It is financed by PSI.
He is delivering an abundance of reports about the failures of the private sector. The solution is instead Public Public Partnership. Good managed public utilities give support to public utilities that need to improve their service.
David Boys is the born agitator, travelling all over the world with the same agenda as David Hall. Sometimes Emanuele Lobina, also making research at PSIRU, join them, smartly dressed in suit and tie. Whenever there is a discussion about the private sector solving the water problems they turn up. So of course they were present when Philippe Marin from the World Bank took part in one of the seminars at the Forum.
Photo: Emanuele Lobina
I myself would enjoy listening to Philippe Marin, to hear that he admits that the private sector was not the sole and only solution. There were problems, he admits. Contracts had to be cancelled and also the private sector did not invest their own capital as much as they hade promised. Public funding of private operations has been key.
Instead Boys, Hall and Lobina are upset. Why? Because Philippe Marin says that the private sector still has a role to play. The World Bank is still as ideological obsessed supporting the private sector as it has been during the past decades. That is their conviction. How are these private companies going to get loans when there is a financial crisis?
This is an ideal time to develop public options, like Public – Public partnership. That is also their conviction.
But to get this message through is not that easy during the World Water Forum.
No journalists would walk to an old building ten minutes away when they get invitations to press conferences just next door where they are sitting.
PSI becomes marginalised when they are offered a little room at that building.
Yet, the struggle has given result. David Boys is a representative in the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. Among the other representatives in the board is prince Willem Alexander of Orange. He passed me when I was leaving the forum. When will the monarchy of Sweden ever devote itself to water and sanitation?
In the evening I have a meal in a cosy little restaurant. Next to me two women are sitting. They have their heads covered by black scarves, smoking several cigarettes, and they give me a friendly smile.
My next topic will be women and water.