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Novel & Transformative Institutional Forms

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Exploration of Public/Private Sector Partnerships and Water (in)Security in South Africa with the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

Project Description

Many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Africa suffer daily from unpredictable access to clean fresh water. At the source, we find inadequate, crumbling and decayed state infrastructures, and if long-standing development trends continue, the prospects for urgently needed improvements in state capacity are dim for the short to medium term. Where will the critical water infrastructure come from and how will it be managed and maintained?

The new orthodoxy looks to public-private sector partnerships (PPPs) for innovative solutions. These envision tri-sector partnerships between governments, the private sector (more often multi-national than small local water sellers), and local community organizations. To date, however, results have been mixed. Well-documented consequences include worsened water access as a result of the privatization process.

Unfortunately, debates on the merits and risks associated with PPPs tend to be mired by politically polarized confrontations. However, faced with state weakness and acute infrastructure decay, such debates divert attention away from case-by-case interrogation of the quality of the processes and partnerships in question – questions that would serve well to illuminate the complexities and nuances.

This proposed research project seeks to examine the quality and network of relationships constructed by Public Private Partnerships. In order to extract some of those lessons, this project seeks to map and synthesize strategies and experiences of: (1) community groups, (2) private sector actors/water sellers, (3) municipal government and (4) brokers such as the UN Development Program, the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation. By combining and superimposing these four dimensions of PPP design and implementation, dilemmas and paradoxes found at the nexus of politics, business and development will be illuminated to further advantage. A dense and refined image of the interactions between rules, social processes, social meanings, and actors will be created, making critical social capital deficits visible, even as they shift and change.