Groups attack government’s privatisation policies, offer alternatives

Civil society and labour groups have kicked against the privatisation policies of federal and state governments saying privatising key public sectors violates the Nigerian constitution.

At the end of a two-day workshop on ‘public-private partnership versus public sector solutions’ organised by the Public Services International in Lagos, the groups said the policies have ”dragged the country backward”.

Josiah Biobelemoye, the National President of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, said proponents of PPP (public-private partnership) in the Nigerian health sector had promised that its implementation would improve quality and equity.

“The multi-million naira question is, what is the average salary of an ordinary Nigerian?” Mr Biobelemoye said.

“What is the current minimum wage like? What is the ease of doing business in Nigeria? Has the cost of treating malaria reduced with the emergence of PPPs in some hospitals? How much is the cost of card collection in Garki Hospital Abuja and Federal Medical Centre Jabi etc?

“It is absolutely unfortunate that policies are driven to suit the interest of few Nigerians at the expense of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.

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“The main problem is wrong diagnosis of what the real challenge is. Instead of avoiding corruption and attending to critical issues that will better the health sector, the government and managers of our health facilities have diagnosed paucity of funds, leading to inadequate funding as the major set-back and are busy presenting PPP as the treatment.”

Mr Biobelemoye said the collapse, on 20th January 2018 in Britain, of Carillion, a private company that the British government had collaborated extensively with on PPPs showed the extent to which the model is ”financially, economically, and socially dangerous, compared to public sector delivery of services”.

“It is also important to note at this juncture that even with the practice of PPPs in some quarters, the Federal Government is still responsible for the personnel cost,” he said.

“This means that very few selfish Nigerians in power have succeeded in ripping off the system thereby offering misleading advice to the government of the day.

“Our experience of PPP so far show that only very few individuals can afford and access healthcare because of its cost. Then, what is the fate of the poor and vulnerable within the same country?”

Delivering the keynote address, Sandra Vermuyten, Public Services International Head of Campaigns, said quality public services are the foundation of a fair society and a strong economy.

“Quality public services make our communities and economies more equitable, resilient to downturn and disaster, and protect the youngest, sick, unemployed, disabled, and vulnerable,” said Ms Vermuyten, who represented Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General-Secretary.

“Quality public services are among the state’s primary mechanisms for fulfilling its obligations for the realisation of human rights, gender equality and social justice. Quality public services also support the economy by providing public infrastructure, research and innovation, a healthy and skilled workforce, and strong and stable justice and regulatory institutions.

“The fight against privatisation is not just a fight to stop the sale of our public services. It is also a fight for the type of society we want, a fight for social justice and equity.”

Ms Vermuyten said there is enough wealth in most countries’ economies to enable the required public investment if corporations and the very wealthy ”pay their fair share”.

“The consequences of underinvestment in quality public services are lower growth, higher inequality, less social cohesion and an inevitable political reaction that is currently being exploited to fuel racism, nationalism, and xenophobia.

“Those seeking to profit from privatisation promote a range of myths. As privatisation became a public relations liability in the 1990s, corporations began to promote Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). As we work to expose PPPs, their tactics evolve further with new and equally dangerous tools developing all the time.”

According to Ms Vermuyten, privatisation is used to break unions’ collective agreements, drive down wages and conditions, introduce precarious work and destroy unions.

Delivering an address on energy privatisation, Joe Ajaero, the President of the United Labour Congress, said 60 per cent of the power sector in Nigeria had been privatised.

“And despite all the assurances by the President of Nigeria as well as the Minister of Power that there would be no handover until all the labour issues were resolved, it is sad to realise that two years after the handover, these issues have remained unresolved,” Mr Ajaero added.

The labour union boss also noted that although the power sector had been privatised, Nigerians could testify that the privatisation had not worked.

“In the sense of what we sought to achieve in terms of power efficiency, delivery, and sustenance, the privatisation has not worked out.

“The current minister of power also attested to the fact in one of their meetings that their perennial whining over service and operational issues had become galling.

“This is to vindicate the union in our struggle against the ills of privatisation of electricity sector in Nigeria. It is simply a contest for conversion of public resources into private pockets.”

Achike Chude, Vice Chairman of the Joint Action Front, said international cooperation between civil organisations and class cooperation can aid effective influencing of government policies.

“We don’t want to be reactive. It is only when they do things that we react but we are becoming proactive. We should be a step ahead of them,” he said.

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