Are public private partnerships helpful or harmful to increase progress on sustainable development? CNS spoke with Gerifel Cerillo, the coordinator of 'Tanggol Bayi' - an association of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the Philippines on this issue. Gerifel will also be a key participant at the forthcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017).
Countries are aggressively promoting Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their 169 targets.
In fact, SDG 17.17 itself asks to "Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships..." But will PPP actually help us in achieving the SDGs or will it rather impede progress on development and redistributive justice? is a question that merits serious thought.
Is PPP = Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril?
Gerifel describes PPPs as 'Public Private Partnerships that Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril for the People and the Planet for all Posterity'. She insists, and rightly so, that PPP is just a euphemism for ridding the State of its responsibility to provide for the public. When public services are handed over to private firms, it guarantees them long-term profits with scant regard for people's welfare. Promoting PPPs to achieve SDGs is a contradiction, for how can one reduce poverty, eliminate hunger, provide quality education and health when the people who need them most are denied access to them?
Impact of market privatisation on the urban poor
Urban poor communities, especially urban poor women, are bearing the brunt of PPPs and other similar neoliberal attacks. It has rid them of their houses, paving the way for malls; it has rid their children of the right to inexpensive quality education with more and more privatisation of education; it has rid them of their health and well-being with public health services being replaced by, or outsourced to, private enterprises.
Gerifel gives the example of Philippines, where PPPs have undergone many rhetorical name changes - with the creation of Asset Privatization Trust (APT) in 1986, to the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law in 1990, to its current name of PPP, and now a friendlier relabelling called Joint Venture Programme. Despite studies showing the unfairness of this all, governments, along with international institutions, continue to support private businesses, more than ever, at the expense of the consumers.
In most countries of the Asia Pacific region, urban poor women are mostly involved in the informal economy. Gerifel shared that in Philippines 6.6 million women work in the informal sector. They are usually employed as street/market vendors, either as contractual labour, or in family-operated businesses, or are self-employed, or are unpaid family workers. They take home what they earn for the day, and do not have insurance cover. They have very little legal guarantees and no social security cushion. The privatization of markets, pushed by the local government, has affected 17 public markets in Manila, with serious repercussions for urban poor women. If the State continues to allow private firms to run social services, people will have less and less access to it, fears Gerifel.
Amongst the several urban poor women Gerifel spoke to in Philippines, their average daily net profit (take-home money), amounts to around $2.8. This is minus other expenses, including rent. Rent in public markets, at $0.08 per day, is manageable, but PPP is set to change this too. It was only through women's continued protests that the local government temporarily refrained from raising the rent, but Gerifel fears that this is unlikely to last for long. As it is, a daily income of $2.8 was never enough, but the privatization of markets has further pushed these women into poverty.
Governments seem to be content with pointing fingers at those very people who are rendered vulnerable through the States’ policies and systems. Women are, more often than not, the victims of poverty perpetrated by the State, yet the same poverty is blamed on them. But every day, through small acts of resistance, they gain strength to triumph.
“With tightening purse strings of international donors and other forms of overseas development aid, governments are giving an excuse to go for PPPs and market privatization to raise resources. But PPPs are an act of desperation on the part of governments and have only resulted in increasing disparities and inequities by promoting a profit-driven economy. Neoliberal policies aggressively push for an export oriented and import dependent economic state - with rich countries producing the final goods and the poor countries exporting raw material. This has led to the closure of 73,000 manufacturing firms in Philippines during the last 10 years”, said Gerifel.
Phrases like 'transferring risk', 'efficiency' and 'value for money' are commonly used to conceal the dangers of PPP. The private sector has actually disproved itself as being the champion of 'managing risk'. It is governments (through people's taxes) that have either guaranteed it profits, or bailed it out in times of economic crisis, as the world has seen in the last global financial crisis. With proper management and reduced corruption, public financing is any day less costly and less risky.
Redistributive justice is integral to sustainable development
Development justice is possible only outside a neoliberal economic framework. If we are serious about redistributing wealth, instead of concentrating it in a few hands, (so that, as per Agenda 2030, no one is left behind) we need to have strong national economies where States create jobs by strengthening their national industries; increase allocations to social services and science and technology; reduce their military budgets; and strengthen their agricultural and manufacturing sectors to be able to domestically produce basic goods and services needed by the people. It will happen in a system where private corporations are brought to account, instead of being allowed to freely exploit countries and the people through neoliberal policies such as the PPP.
Gerifel believes that poverty and misery are abstract notions to powerful leaders, private businesses and moneyed individuals; while these are everyday realities faced by the urban poor and other marginalized sectors. It is not an isolated injustice, and can only be overcome through movements, through solidarity, and through collective struggle that can decisively change the current oppressive system.
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service). This article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or visit www.citizen-news.org)