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Blue Planet Project says privatising public services is no way to fund sustainable development

UN side event

Blue Planet Project campaigner Meera Karunananthan spoke at a United Nations side event yesterday during the fifth session of the Post-2015 negotiations process (May 18-22). She has been working with allies around the world to ensure that the human right to water and sanitation is explicitly named and respected in the United Nations Declaration for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The side event was titled ‘Addressing Corporate Accountability and Unregulated Private Sector Participation in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Implications for Follow-up and Review’. It was organized by the Blue Planet Project, NGO Mining Working Group, Franciscans International, Public Services International and co-sponsored by the Republic of Palau.

Meera at the UN

Karunananthan argued that privatising public services is no way to fund sustainable development.

That was also her argument in an op-ed co-authored with War on Want trade campaigner Mark Dearn that was also published in the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom yesterday.

In that op-ed, Karunananthan and Dearn write, “In its 2014 world investment report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates the SDGs will require between $3.3 trillion and $4.5 trillion a year to implement. Proponents of privatisation have used this funding gap to promote the case for greater private sector participation, particularly in the global south. But before the United Nations (UN) creates a new channel for foreign investments in public services it needs to take a closer look at the history of the private sector ‘leaving behind’ the most marginalised and vulnerable.”

They note, “Without an economic incentive to serve poor communities, the private sector will not ensure universal enjoyment of the human right to water and sanitation. A Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) study shows that private sector investment results in very few new connections in parts of the world where the need is greatest, such as sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.”

And they highlight, “There has been a sharp increase in the use of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). UNCTAD records indicate that, in the 50 years to the end of 2014, there have been a total of 608 known ISDS cases, with 58 new cases in 2012, and 42 in 2014. A new investment agreement is concluded every other week. …ISDS undermines state sovereignty by allowing investors to make recourse to a separate court system that enables them to sue states when policies threaten present or future profits. …The fundamental premise of ISDS means southern countries must absorb the double impact of privatisation and investment treaties.”

Karunananthan and Dearn then conclude, “With the rise of investment treaties giving primacy to ‘corporate rights’, and no legally binding international mechanisms to hold these corporations accountable for human rights violations, greater private sector participation in water and sanitation projects through the SDGs will only exacerbate the water and sanitation crisis around the globe.”

To watch Karunananthan’s 7-minute presentation at the UN side event yesterday, please go to the 19:30 mark in the video here.

The SDGs are expected to be adopted at a special summit of world leaders at the United Nations this September.

Further reading
Blue Planet Project calls for right to water to be named in Post-2015 Development Agenda (May 2015)
Blue Planet Project calls for explicit recognition of right to water in UN development agenda (May 2015)

Photos: Still from UN Web TV.