Public sector alternatives

The doctrine of privatisation promised to bring efficiency and lower costs to the provision of public services, but instead has led to public subsidies for corporations, higher costs and public disillusion. It is time to bring many services back under public control, drawing on the best practices of public utilities worldwide, in terms of efficiency, costs as well as social and ecological goals.

TNI has worked for more than a decade to build a strong countervailing force that reverses privatisation and delivers a more democratic, accountable and effective public sector that works better for citizens and the environment.

Goal (2011-2015): To promote and support the (re)establishment of effective, democratic public enterprises that ensure equitable access to good public services and which provide leadership in sustainable development.

Goals Results in 2015 to which TNI contributed
Build alliance between trade unions, PEPs, academics (Colombia, Uruguay, Costa Rica) on public enterprises
  • The International Network on Public Enterprises and Development was consolidated. The network is composed of academic researchers, civil society activists (mainly trade unionists) and public enterprises managers from 14 Latin American and European countries.
Advance critical thinking in Latin America on new forms of public management
  • On-line courses were held (diploma) in Latin America on alternative to ‘new public management’ (with TNI playing a supporting role and providing teaching materials
Empower union leaders fighting privatisation and promoting public utilities
  • TNI organised workshops/trainings for trade union leaders in Japan, Greece, Korea, Nigeria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Indonesia
  • Partnership with the Japanese local government workers’ union, Jochiro, produced the Japanese translation of the TNI/PSI booklet , “The tragedy of the private, the potential of the public”
  • Partnership with COSATU ‘s Chris Hani Institute involved TNI’s work on positive alternatives to privatisation being presented  as part of the COSATU /SIGTURE Alternatives Commission in July 2015.
Empower and support community organisations in Colombia and Indonesia involved in fighting water privatisation
  • TNI supports a new partnership project between the community based water system, a rural community in Antioquia and the water union of the public water operator in Colombia.
  • Significant victories in two court cases in Jakarta regional court and Indonesia supreme court. TNI partner Amrta Institute created a space for dialogue and provided its expertise on democratic public models to policy makers.
Provide stronger evidence on remunicipalisation trend and results and build stronger alliance with public water associations
  • 17 new remunicipalisation cases were written up in partnerships with local activists (Turkey, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Spain etc).
  • The production of the book Our Public Future contributed to a strong alliance with public water associations in France and Germany, local authorities in Italy and Catalonia and CSOs in Eastern Europe. The findings have become a reference point for many campaigns advocating for water justice and public control over water and were widely reported in international media


Project in Numbers

  • 1979 people attended international events on public sector alternatives
  • 16 new members joined the Reclaiming Public Water network, which grew to 318 members from 58 countries
  • 235 cities have reversed privatisation in the last 15 years
  • Our Public Water future book viewed 3416 times
  • Produced 6 major publications in English and 5 in Spanish.

Remunicipalisation research boosts campaigns worldwide

In April, TNI co-published the book Our Public Water Future: Global experiences with Remunicipalisation. The book chronicled the 235 cities that have reversed privatisation of water services in the last 15 years – based on surveys by members of the Reclaiming Public Water Network, which TNI has facilitated for over a decade.

The findings have become a reference point for many campaigns advocating for water justice and public control over water and were widely reported in international media (including international press agencies, and media in the UK, USA, India, Italy, South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia, Spain and France). In one Italian newspaper, Repubblica, the article on the report received 2 million likes. Authors have been invited to present the book in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Belgium, Nigeria, Greece and Bulgaria. The book was also promoted at the World Water Forum held in South Korea. Six opinion articles were written and published  based on the findings.

The book was translated into French, Catalan and Italian by national/local organisations and has also prompted the European Public Sector Unions (EPSU) to carry out its own study of remunicipalisation of social services. The book has proved to be a remarkable catalyst for strengthening advocacy work and capacity-building in support of public water worldwide.

Remunicipalisation wave of #water services all around the world is now in a book. Thanks @satokokishimoto ! (Tweet by Célia Blauel, Deputy-Mayor of Paris and Chair of Public water company Eau de Paris)

Supporting and upscaling public-public partnerships

As a coordinating organisation of the Reclaiming Public Water Network, TNI participated in the 3rd Global Congress of Global Water Operators Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) held in Barcelona in September. TNI was closely involved in shaping the Local Authorities session. TNI also contributed to the Finance session, providing perspectives and analysis from a TNI paper that looked at options for public finance for infrastructure.

While in Barcelona, TNI hosted a dialogue with the elected officials and members of Barcelona en Comú (a progressive grassroots political party and part of the governing coalition in Barcelona) to share best practices in the field of public services. TNI also met with the newly elected UN Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water to present cases of violations of the human right to water in Lagos and El Salvador.

Janet Sanz, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona who opened the Global Water Operators Partnerships Alliance Congress in September, stated that solidarity, transparency, citizen workers participation in public policy is crucial.

TNI in 2015 also continued to actively support the Platform for Public and Community Partnership of the Americas, providing financial support but also access to the Reclaiming Public Water network’s technical and strategic expertise. PAPC promotes public and community exchanges and partnerships between water utilities.

In 2015, TNI supported PAPC to start a new partnership project between the community based water system of San Andrés, a rural community in Antioquia (Colombia), and SINTRACUVALLE, the water union of ACUVALLE SA, the public water operator of Cauca Valley, Cali (Colombia).

Public-Community partnerships are increasingly acknowledged in the mainstream water policy arena as an effective way to improve efficiency, increase access to water and strengthen community-led water utilities – in stark contrast to the failures of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). PAPC was nominated to present their project to a UN-HABITAT hosted conference on water governance in September in Barcelona.

Jakarta cancels world’s biggest water privatisation contract

For a number of years, TNI has provided support to its partner Amrta Institute in Jakarta for its efforts to remunicipalise the Jakarta water utility. After several years of deadlock, two citizen-led legal actions, supported by the Amrta Institute, prompted some breakthroughs in 2015. In February, the Indonesian Constitutional Court annulled the Water Resources Law, which had first opened up private sector involvement in water services; then in March, the Central Jakarta District Court annulled the privatisation contracts in Jakarta, arguing that they violated the human right to water.

After the court decision, Amrta Institute facilitated eight policy dialogues with stakeholders including the Jakarta governor, public water company leaders, and lawyers as well as organising three major public discussions. The intensive media work was covered by all the Indonesian mainstream media including one TV talk show.

The battle is not yet over, however. The private water corporations are currently appealing to the High court and have submitted an investment dispute arbitration claim at the Singapore International Arbitration Court.

Earth Talk Water Privatization

European Commission asked by European Parliament to exclude water from privatisation agreements and trade treaties

TNI has been an active member of a European coalition pushing for the enactment of the human right to water in Europe. Our partner, the European Public Services Union led the mobilisation of almost two million citizens to sign Europe’s first Citizens Initiative that calls for all EU inhabitants to enjoy the right to water and sanitation. In addition, the initiative stipulated that water supply and water management should be excluded from liberalisation and the EU should increase its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation through Public-Public partnerships. Under European law, a Citizens Initiative requires a legislative response.

After a weak response by the Commission in 2014, the Committee on the Environment of the European Parliament called on the EC to “produce legislative proposals which will enshrine the human right to water in EU legislation, avoiding the privatisation of water services and also to make sure that water services are excluded from the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations.”

The report was adopted by the majority of the Parliament without major changes, although unfortunately conservative forces managed to insert the recommended use of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) by just one vote.

“A victory for civil society and for Right2Water campaigners across Europe. The 1.8 million signatories of the initiative [in 13 member states] have finally received the support they deserve from an EU institution.”
– Irish MEP Lynn Boylan, Rapporteur of the EP report adopted 8 September 2015.

Public Enterprises

TNI Fellow, Daniel Chavez co-organised a major conference in Costa Rica in February with CEOs of public enterprises from across Latin America, academics, and trade unions. It was opened by the President of Costa Rica. Six major public enterprises (from the electricity, water, telecom and banking sectors) from Latin America presented their strategies for strengthening their ‘public’ profile as alternatives for delivering high quality and affordable public services.

Two forthcoming books in Spanish, to be co-published by TNI, were also completed in 2015: one on Rethinking the Public (co-editors include Daniel Chavez, Marcela Olivera and Susan Spronk) and the second by Daniel Chavez and Mabel Thwaites Rey on prospects for public enterprises – El Estado del Futuro – La refundación de la empresa pública en América Latina.

Energy democracy

In the autumn of 2015, TNI started to develop work in the area of energy democracy. The aim is to facilitate networks on the issue and to build on TNI’s experience in the field of water. Daniel Chavez attended an energy democracy conference in Brussels convened by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. In December during the UN climate meetings, TNI held a two-day expert seminar on the issue, and also held meetings with key stakeholders with a view to setting up an international Energy Democracy network during 2016.


Satoko Kishimoto
Project Coordinator

Dr. Daniel Chavez
TNI Fellow

Hilary Wainwright
TNI Fellow

Lavinia Steinfort
Programme Assistant

Partners and Networks


  • Reclaiming Public Water Network
  • Municipal Services Project
  • Public Services International


  • Plataforma de Acuerdos Públicos Comunitarios de Las Américas
  • Censat Agua Viva (Colombia)
  • Queens University (Canada)
  • University of Mexico
  • University of Costa Rica
  • University of the Republic (Uruguay)
  • ANTEL (Uruguay)
  • Blue Planet Project (Canada)


  • University of the Western Cape (South Africa)
  • Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the earth Nigeria


  • Amrta Institute (Indonesia)
  • Focus on the Global South (Asia)
  • Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU)


  • Corporate Europe Observatory (Belgium)
  • Public Services International Research Unit (UK)
  • European Public Service Unions (EPSU)
  • Multinational Observatory (France)
  • Ingeniería Sin Fronteras CATALUÑA (ISF)
  • Aqua Publica Europea (European Association of Public Water Operators)
  • Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua (Italy)
  • SOSte to NERO (S.O.S. Water) (Greece)
  • Institute for Political Ecology (Croatia)
  • Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Brussels office