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ERA/FoEN: UN is right, govt must fund water sanitation in Lagos

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has commended the recent statement by Leo Heller, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation.

Heller had initially described the 2017 budget proposal for the water sector in Lagos state as unacceptable. 

Akinwunmi Ambode, while presenting the 2017 budget to the Lagos House of Assembly said the state will be relying majorly on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) schemes to improve water supply.

The civil society organisation said Lagos citizens insist that PPPs usually involve private “financing”, which is different from “funding”, which can be provided by a government, because unlike public infrastructure spending, private partners always expect to make back any money they invest, plus a profit.

Heller said “government reports indicate alarmingly high deficits in the sector, representing clearly unacceptable conditions for millions of the megacity’s residents”.

While calling for increased government funding of the water sector and consideration of proven alternative approaches, such as for Public-Public Partnerships (PUPs) instead of private partnerships, Heller pointed out that “for more than a decade, the government has adopted a hard-line policy according to which the solution would seem to only attract private capital, notably via public-private partnerships (PPPs)”.

“‘Numerous civil society groups have urged the Government to guarantee their right to participate in these processes.

“I believe that a participatory process is key to finding an adequate solution. But the alternatives proposed by civil society are not given meaningful consideration, while negotiations to initiate PPPs between public authorities and private investors have reportedly occurred in secret.”

Akinbode Oluwafemi, the ERA/FoEN deputy executive director said, said “we welcome the timing of these comments just a few days before members of the Lagos House of Assembly weigh in on the governor’s 2017 budget which underpins delivery on water promises to the myth called PPP”.

Oluwafemi explained that Ambode’s budget was released several weeks after his own officials actively sought out copies of the recently published water policy book, Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for Water Sector, but failed to meaningfully incorporate any of its detailed recommendations for improving the Lagos water sector.

The special rapporteur identified the deterioration of water infrastructure managed by the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) and a non-participatory process run by the state government among others as the causes of the vulnerability the people have been exposed to for more than a decade now.

Oluwafemi maintained that civil society groups are in agreement with the solutions proposed by Heller such as boosting the effectiveness of the public service provider, including by adopting appropriate financing schemes and responsibly reducing water losses.

“These recommendations are in agreement with our water policy book, in which we have identified the problems of the sector and elucidated a workable roadmap both at the short term and the long term as alternative to the unworkable and failure –prone private participation being proposed by the Lagos government.

“As the debate towards the passage of the budget commences, we expect the State House of Assembly will do the needful by re-prioritisation of water through increased budgetary allocation, put a stop to all on-going PPP arrangements and create a structure to ensure Lagos benefit from the vastly available Public- Public Partnerships and other pro-people models for water management,” Oluwafemi added.