Half of the 74 Privatised State Owned Enterprise (SoEs) Closed Down in Bangladesh

April 26, 2009

NewAge, April 25, 2009

Almost half of the 74 state-owned enterprises divested in the past were closed down that raised question about the quality of ‘so called privatisation’.

A total of 74 state-owned enterprises belong to textiles, jute, manufacturing, chemicals, food, leather and banking sector were sold out since the establishment of the Privatisation Board in 1993 and thereafter the Privatization Commission in 2000.


A closed state-owned jute mills. — New Age photo

Of them, 54 were divested through outright sale and 20 through off-loading of shares by suggestion of the lending agencies especially the World Bank.

Among the privatised enterprises, which are still in business limp badly, they said.

Serious questions can be raised about the privatisation process itself, said Bangladesh Enterprise Institute president Farooq Sobhan. He suggested changes to the existing privatisation process.

Industries minister Dilip Barua, has, however, favoured a provision to halt privatisation of the state-run entities.

He made his intention clear while unveiling the draft of the new industrial policy on Saturday at local hotel.

’Many privatised factories remain inoperative or non-functional under new ownership. In some cases, land is sold off after take-over,’ he said.

Apart from 74 SOEs, some 24 SoEs have already been listed by the commissions to get them disposed off under a World Bank’s multi million ‘bank modernisation and enterprise growth’ project.

Tenders have already been called for three SoEs.

Around 305 state owned enterprises comprising industrial, commercial and financial institutions were put under public ownership in 1974-75.

The size of the public sector enterprises have reduced considerably after the paradigm shift in the government’s economic policy towards privatisation.

However, in name of privatisation successive governments sold out many viable SoEs at very cheap rate, said an official of the Bangladesh Forest Industries and Development Corporation.

He said Wood Treating Plant at Daulatpur in Khulna was divested to private entrepreneur although the organisation was running on break event and employed more than 200 workers.

A relative of the than privatisation commission chairman purchase the plant and curtailed more than 150 workers.

The abortive attempt to privatise Rupali Bank, country’s fourth largest commercial bank, has added further burden on the government exchequer, said the finance ministry officials.

 The three-year long unsuccessful bargaining with A Saudi prince deteriorated the financial position of the loss making bank that was put on sale in 2005.


User fees in public health care is anti-people, immoral

April 7, 2009

Editorial, NewAge, April 7, 2009

IT IS an ominous development that the government is proposing an increase in user fees at public hospitals, doing away with crucial free services and raising the prices of an array of tests and services that users already pay for. While these proposals are yet to be approved by the health ministry, it is said to be in line with the decision by the previous interim regime to grant autonomy to public hospitals, according to a report in Monday’s New Age.

Across the world there is more or less a policy consensus that health care is a common good and not a market commodity and that state expenditure in public health care has far-reaching redistributive effects. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 100 million people across the world slide into ever deeper poverty every year as a result of out-of-pocket expenditures on health care for a family member. Given this reality, providing free universal health care in a country like Bangladesh could have a tremendous positive impact of preventing tens of thousands of families from sliding deeper into poverty and debt as a result of a single disease or accident. What this also implies is that when families that live marginally above or on the poverty line have access to free health care, they have more resources to divert towards better nutrition and better education for their children, both of which are keystones of economic development.

It is no wonder that almost all developed countries of the world ensure free universal access to quality health care to their citizens, though significant sections of the citizenry could very well afford to pay for healthcare services. In fact, the lack of such universal healthcare services is also evident from the plight of the United States — one of the wealthiest economies in the world — where 47 million people reportedly have no access to health care because of the prohibitive costs involved, and are mired deeper and deeper into debt and poverty when they incur heavy expenditure on healthcare.

While public sector health care in Bangladesh is indeed in a shambles, rife with corruption and neglect, this cannot be a good enough argument to corporatise health care rather than institutionalise reforms which ensure more accountability and better services. We see it fit to oppose, in the harshest possible terms, what can only be the government’s first step to abdicate its central responsibility in providing universal free health care to its citizens by introducing the concept of user fees in health care, which typically precedes a gradual retreat from provision of such services. Such a move is immoral in that it accentuates the deep-seated inequities that already characterise Bangladeshi society, and will likely exacerbate poverty, undoing considerable good achieved by government and NGO-run anti-poverty programmes of the past decades.

Water Rights Activists Blast Istanbul World Water Forum as Corporate Trade Show to Promote Privatization

March 25, 2009

Democracy Now! March 23, 2009

Sunday was World Water Day and marked the close of a week-long gathering held in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss water policy at a time when over a billion people lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion people lack water for proper sanitation. Activists from the People’s Water Forum, an alternative formation representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor, slammed the official event as a non-inclusive, corporate-driven fraud pushing for water privatization and called for a more open, democratic and transparent forum.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunday was World Water Day and marked the close of a week-long gathering held in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss water policy at a time when over a billion people lack access to clean water and two-and-a-half billion lack water for proper sanitation. 

Activists from the People’s Water Forum, an alternative formation representing rural poor, the environment and organized labor, slammed the official event as a non-inclusive, corporate-driven fraud pushing for water privatization and called for a more open, democratic and transparent forum. The forum, which is organized every three years by the French-based World Water Council, is funded in large part by the water industry. 

The forum opened last Monday with Turkish police firing tear gas and detaining protesters, who were shouting “water for life, not for profit.” Two activists from the non-governmental organization International Rivers were deported after holding up a banner just before the conference began that read “No Risky Dams.” 

The final non-binding communiqué from the official forum describes access to water as a “basic human need” rather than a human right, despite efforts by dissenting Latin American countries, France and Spain. They were reportedly blocked by Egypt, Brazil and the United States. 

Well, Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films caught up with some of the leading campaigners from the People’s Water Forum—Winona Hauter of Food and Water Watch, Mary Ann Manahan of Focus on the Global South, and Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly and Right Livelihood Award-winner—for their thoughts on the World Water Forum. Begins with Maude Barlow. 

    MAUDE BARLOW: Every time you turn around, everywhere you go, there are police. It’s absolutely unbelievable. You cannot come in from the outside. There’s absolutely no way. Unless you’ve paid a great deal of money and you’ve had the security screening and you behave yourself very properly while you’re in there, you would not be welcome. You would be thrown out and/or arrested. And the World Water Council people, the World Water Forum, did not critique what the police have been doing here. They’ve just accepted it and enjoyed it and taken advantage of the tough security measures here. 

    The security is tight, because what they’re about is promoting privatization, promoting a corporate vision of the world, and they want to pretend to the world that that’s the consensus of the world. And it isn’t. And our groups are here to say it’s not, and so they want to control us as much as possible. 

    They basically say that they are the collection of people around the world who care about water, and they come together every three years to have this great big summit. And every single year, the police presence gets more and more like the World Trade Organization, every single year, from the very beginning, when there was none, to this. But basically, the World Water Council, which puts this on, is really the big water corporations and the World Bank and some UN agencies and some northern development agencies, some academics, the odd small NGO—small as in, you know, NGOs, but really, it is the corporations, and it’s a big trade show. That’s what this is about. They’ll put on sessions on gender and water, but they don’t mean any of it. This is really about one development model for water, and that’s the privatization model. And that’s what they’re promoting, and that’s what their consensus is, and they refuse to include the notion of the right to water and, of course, the public trust into their documents. 

    WINONA HAUTER: Winona Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. We’ve been organizing around the water forums for several years, because this is the corporate trade show where decisions are made about who gets water and who doesn’t get water. Strategies are developed here. And it’s basically a big business corporate cheerleading session that sets the agenda for the world. And rather than governments coming up with the solutions for the 1.4 billion people that don’t have access to water, we have the corporations that are going to benefit from privatizing it and for providing financing for new and old infrastructure. 

    In the US, we just looked at the twenty states that have the most private water, and you have to understand that 86 percent of water in the US is public, although the private companies are moving in, because they think there’s a big profit. But in those twenty states, private water is always more expensive, and private sewage is always more expensive, and we’re talking sometimes as much as 80 to 100 percent more. 

    The other thing that the private companies are trying to do at this meeting and that they’re promoting in the US is private financing for water infrastructure. Now, this sounds good, and it may even sound good to well-meaning NGOs, because everybody knows that there isn’t enough money going into services for the poor, but when you look at the details, it’s a rip-off. So, in the US, where we have fewer federal dollars spent on our aging infrastructure, there’s about a $22 billion deficit every year. The private investors think that in this economic crisis, it’s a safe place to make a profit. 

    You know, lots of times we are accused of being too idealistic, of being ideologues. But, in fact, it’s the other way around. When you actually look at the facts, the facts are with us. Privatization is not more efficient, and there are dozens and dozens of studies from around the world, the developed world and the Global South that prove this. It’s more expensive. It causes more environmental problems. And the incentive is to not conserve water, but to use as much water as possible and to spend as much money as possible in building and fixing infrastructure. And that’s why we’re being prevented from having a dialogue in this forum. 

    MARY ANN MANAHAN: I’m Mary Ann Manahan. I’m a researcher, campaigner with an organization called Focus on the Global South. We’re here for the Alternative People’s Forum, with the People’s Water Forum. And people here are very—it’s very different from the official World Water Forum, in the sense that this is the real water forum for us. 

    They used the water crisis in Asia as a staging point to launch privatization experiments across the region. But for the last ten to fifteen years, we’ve been experiments, or we’ve been the laboratory of privatization projects and guinea pigs. But we’ve experienced, for the last—early on to the privatization experiments, that it has failed to deliver its promises of efficient delivery, transparent and democratic water systems, of lower prices. Those promises have failed miserably. And the failures are systemic. 

    And they’re not anecdotal, you know, just one case, but we’re seeing a trend where in each country where they try the privatization experiment, they all have failed. So this is why many of the groups who are experiencing the impacts of privatization in their communities, particularly those who work with poor communities who can’t come here, because they don’t have the money to come here, were sharing the stories, the stories of the people who are actually experiencing the unequal access to water and sanitation. 

    MAUDE BARLOW: The World Water Forum is bankrupt of new ways to address the growing water crisis in the world, because they have maintained an adherence to an ideology that is not working, that has dramatically failed. 

    I’ll tell you what happened here. It’s no longer about the World Water Forum. That’s what happened here. We just transferred, and now it’s about us and our vision. The World Water Forum is bankrupt. They’re bankrupt of ideas. They’re bankrupt of money, frankly. And they have no other thing to offer but what’s failed. And what’s clear here is that the energy and the commitment and the brilliance and the ideas and the cultural change has come together. And this is where the future of water is coming from, this movement here in this room. It’s not coming from over there. So we will be less concerned—I mean, if they want to go to Marseilles, let them go to Marseilles next time. It won’t matter. It really won’t matter. The change has been here. It’s been a transfer of power. That’s what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly and chair of the Council of Canadians, speaking out against the World Water Forum that is wrapping up now in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Download audio (MP3) and watch real video stream

Opening Message at the People’s Water Forum

March 23, 2009

Istanbul, Turkey, March 19, 2009

Speech delivered by Mary Ann Manahan, a water justice activist based in the Philippines during the press conference of the Peoples’ Water Forum at Marmara Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey on March 19, 2009. She spoke on behalf of the Asian delegation present at the Peoples’ Water Forum.

Asia’s water resources are described as a paradox. One ofabundance—we are home to tremendous water resources: great rivers systems and lakes in Tibet, India, Southeast Asia, and China. But at the same time, of scarcity— we have the highest number of people unserved by either water supply or sanitation. 715 million people in Asia have no access to safe drinking water, while 1.9 billion or close to 50% of its population has no access to sanitation. This scarcity has provoked water wars in communities and interstate conflicts between China, the Mekong region, India and Pakistan who are fighting on transboundary issues, water sharing, and dam constructions. 

This water crisis has become a staging point for the IFIs such as the ADB and WB and neoliberal governments to promote and push privatization as the so-called “best model” that will solve the region’s water crisis. For the last 10-15 years, we have been the guinea pigs and laboratories of privatization experiments. But these have miserably failed and promises were not delivered. We saw in Metro Manila and Jakarta skyrocketing of prices, inefficient delivery, exacerbating unequal access to water and sanitation between the poor and the rich, untransparent and unaccountable water systems. The promise that the private is better than the public is completely untrue. 

The impacts of the privatization and commercialization of water to communities and the poor have led the water justice movements to wage struggles against the privateers, local and transnational water barons, and water policies of Asian governments. Our struggles are struggles for human right, human dignity, gender equity, and ultimately, democracy. Our struggles have brought about the emergence of alternatives such as Public-Public Partnerships, communities reclaiming and taking control over their water, as well as the reversal of privatization and the establishment of democratically and publicly controlled and managed water systems. In the Philippines, neighborhood associations in slum communities are laying down pipes and boring wells to provide water and sanitation facilities to their communities. In the state of Tamil Nadu, India, they were able to transform a moribund and corrupt public water utility into one of the most efficient and functioning utilities in the region and where public engineers are working with and alongside communities. 

These positive models and good practices have to be supported and strengthened by state and public investments rather than outright support to privatization. 

We demand and challenge our governments in Asia to say no to the IFIs conditionalities and  drive for privatization and commercialization of water, particularly, through free trade agreements and to put a stop to risky dam constructions. 

We demand our Asian governments, especially the regional blocs such as ASEAN and SAARC, to be bold and voice out their support for human right to water. As duty bearers they must work for the protection and fulfillment of the right to water, including the promotion and support for community stewardship. Their silence on this issue in the official World Water Forum is not only disconcerting, it’s an outright abdication of their roles and responsibilities to the people. 

We challenge you to stand up and not be part of the silent majority. 

We challenge and urge you to be part of the lasting solution to world’s water problems. If not, we will hold you accountable.

Democratic forum demands public water for all

March 22, 2009

Food and Water Watch

ISTANBUL, Turkey – March 19 – International water justice activists converged at the People’s Water Forum today to affirm the human right to water and present diverse visions of existing public and community-led water management practices that protect water for people and nature, and can ensure water access for all regardless of their ability to pay.

Maude Barlow, Senior Advisor on Water to UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, delivered a statement from him. D’Escoto was clear: “Water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a fundamental human right…We must challenge the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Those who are committed to the privatization of water…are denying people a human right as basic as the air we breathe.”

A diverse group of water justice activists also presented their forward-looking visions. Mary Ann Manahan, of Focus on the Global South in the Philippines said “Access to water and sanitation is not only about efficiency and effective delivery but about justice, gender equity, human dignity and ultimately, democracy.”

Sebahat Tuncet, a member of Turkey’s Parliament, issued a strong statement against the construction of large dams, condemning especially the Ilisu and Munzur dams and others under consideration for construction throughout the region.

Adriana Marquisio, a member of Public Services International and President of Uruguay’s Public Water Union, urged that water be managed publicly and not for profit. “But let us be clear,” she added, “that the meaning of ‘public’ extends beyond state control. Public management must recognize alternative, community-led structures of governance.”

Philipp Terhorst of Transnational Institute, speaking for the European Water Network, criticized the recent EU Parliament’s resolution that fails to recognize the human right to water.

Also speaking at the conference was Al-hassan Adam, Coordinator of the Africa Water Network, who condemned the repression of activists, which, he said, reflects the larger exclusion of the majority of people from basic human rights.

These speakers represent a wide spectrum of visionary leaders offering practical, equitable, and just solutions to the world’s current water crisis, said organizers of the Peoples Water Forum.

People’s Water Forum Declaration 2009

March 20, 2009

Istanbul, People’s Water Forum 2009

After Mexico City 2006, which was an important milestone of the continuous work of the global movement for water justice, we have now gathered in Istanbul to mobilize against the 5th World Water Forum. We are here to delegitimize this false, corporate driven World Water Forum and to give voice to the positive agenda of the global water justice movements!

Given that we are in Turkey, we cannot ignore that this country provides a powerful example of the devastating impacts of destructive water management policies. The Turkish government has pushed for the privatization of both water services, watersheds and has plans to dam every river in the country. Four specific cases of destructive and risky dams in Turkey, include the Ilisu, Yusufeli, Munzur and Yortanli dams. For ten years, affected people have intensively opposed these projects, in particular, the Ilisu dam which is part of a larger irrigation and energy production project known as the South East Anatolia Projects, or GAP. The Ilisu dam ? one of the most criticized dam projects worldwide? is particularly compex and troubling because of its implications on international policy in the Middle East. The dam is situated in the Kurdish-settled region where there are ongoing human rights violations related to the unsolved Kurdish question. The Turkish government is using GAP to negatively impact the livelihood of the Kurdish people and to suppress their cultural and political rights.

We, as a movement, are here to offer solutions to the water crisis, and to demand that the UN General Assembly  organize the next global forum on water. The participation of important United Nations officials and representatives in our meeting is evidence that something has changed. There is a tangible and  symbolic shift of legitimacy: from the official Forum organized by private interests and by the World Water Council to the Peoples Water Forum, organized by global civil society including, farmers, indigenous peoples, activists, social movements, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and networks that struggle throughout the world in the defense of water and territory and for the commons.

We call on the United Nations and its member states to accept its obligation, as the legitimate global convener of multilateral forums, and to formally commit to hosting a forum on water that is linked to state obligations and is accountable to the global community. We call upon all organizations and governments at this 5th World Water Forum, to commit to making it the last corporate-controlled water forum. The world needs the launch of a legitimate, accountable, transparent, democratic forum on water emerging from within the UN processes supported by its member states.

Confirming once again the illegitimacy of the World Water Forum, we denounce the Ministerial Statement because it does not recognize water as a universal human right nor exclude it from global trade agreements. In addition the draft resolution ignores the failure of privatization to guarantee the access to water for all, and does not take into account those positive recommendations proposed by the insufficient European Parliamentary Resolution. Finally, the statement promotes the use of water to produce energy from hydroelectric dams and the increased production of fuel from crops, both of which lead to further inequity and injustice.

We reaffirm and strengthen all the principles and commitments expressed in the 2006 Mexico City declaration: we uphold water as the basic element of all life on the planet, as a fundamental and inalienable human right; we insist that solidarity between present and future generations should be guaranteed; we reject all forms of
privatization and declare that the management and control of water must be public, social, cooperative, participatory, equitable, and not for profit; we call for the democratic and sustainable management of ecosystems and to preserve the integrity of the water cycle through the protection and proper management of watersheds and environment.

We oppose the dominant economic and financial model that prescribes the privatization, commercialization and corporatization of public water and sanitation services. We will counter this type of destructive and non-participatory public sector reform, having seen the outcomes for poor people as a result of rigid cost-recovery
practices and the use of pre-paid meters.

Since 2006, in Mexico, the global water justice movement has continued to challenge corporate control of water for profit. Some of our achievements include: reclaiming public utilities that had been privatized; fostering and implementing public-public partnerships; forcing the bottled water industry into a loss of revenue; and coming together in collective simultaneous activities during Blue October and the Global Action Week. We celebrate our achievements highlighted by the recognition of the human right to water in several constitutions and laws.

At the same time we need to address the economic and ecological crises. We will not pay for your crisis! We will not rescue this flawed and unsustainable model, which has transformed: unaccountable private spending into enormous public debt, which has transformed water and the commons into merchandise, which has transformed the whole of Nature into a preserve of raw materials and into an open-air dump.

The basic interdependence between water and climate change is recognized by the scientific community and is underlined also by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Therefore, we must not accept responses to climate chaos in the energy sector that follow the same logic that caused the crisis in the first place. This is a logic that jeopardizes the quantity and quality of water and of life that is based on dams, nuclear power plants, and agro-fuel plantations. In December 2009, we will bring our concerns and proposals to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Further, the dominant model of intensive industrial agriculture, contaminates and destroys water resources, impoverishes agricultural soils, and devastates food sovereignty. This has enormous impact on lives and public health. From the fruitful experience of the Belem World Social Forum, we are committed to strengthening the strategic alliance between water movements and those for land, food and climate.

We also commit to continue building networks and new social alliances, and to involve both local authorities and Parliamentarians who are determined to defend water as a common good and to reaffirm the right to fresh water for all human beings and nature. We are also encouraging all public water utilities to get together, establishing national associations and regional networks.

We celebrate our achievements and we look forward for our continued collaboration across countries and continents!

Writing on Water: Democratisation in Water Management

March 14, 2009

Video on the Pan Asian Water Colloquium held in Chennai, September 25 to 30th 2008. A group of Water Activists, Operators, Unionists, Academics, Researchers and Policy makers from 18 countries across the globe assembled in Chennai to participate in the Pan Asian Colloquium on “Rights to Water: Challenges and Solutions”. This film is a documentation of the journey of the delegates as they explore alternatives and experience the “The Democratization Experiment” of the Tamilnadu Water supply and Drainage baord. (TWAD). 

Part One: The adverse effects of the privatization of water in various parts of the world becomes apparent as the delegates share their experiences. Given that ‘Water’ is part of the Global commons and that privatization needs to be resisted; how does one proceed forward. What are the alternatives? What is this TWAD experiment. How and where does the journey begin?

Part Two: If the journey begins with the self; the transformation of the individual first; then can individual transformation become institutional transformation? The delegates visit a village near Chennai and see the result of the personal transformation and the spirit of voluntarism in one TWAD Engineer.

Part Three: The myths propounded the international financial institutions on the trillion dollar requirement for meeting the Milleinnum Development Goals on Water are demolished.

Part Four: The enabling tools of the process of transformation are discussed. “Koodam” as a concept of democratization is elaborated and how the voluntarism generated enthuses true community participation.

Part Five: The main issues of the Water Debate are discussed threadbare by the delegates from various countries; reaching the conclusion that one cannot ignore working with the governments.

Part Six: Inspired by the vision of a village community who have painted in the wall of a building, what they  want the village to be in ten years time; the delegates each take a vow to fight for reclaiming public water and to work to spread the idea of the democratization of water management.

Further resource: The report from the Pan-Asian Water Colloquium