An Interview with a Waterworks Union Activist

(Notes: In July 2007, in the preparation for the Chinese version of the book Reclaiming Public Water, a joint publication by TNI and CEO, we conducted an interview with an activist from the Government Waterworks Professionals Association, Hong Kong. The activist chose to remain anonymous.)

The water supply in Hong Kong has been run by the government since the British occupation. Recently a book authored by Lam Pun Lee raised many criticisms about the publicly run water supply. In it he argues that water supply suffers from low productivity if compared to other public enterprises, low profitability etc. As a public servant in the waterworks department, how would you respond to these complaints? More importantly, do you think Hong Kong’s water supply should remain in the public’s hands?

Firstly, the author of the book in question hypothesized that water is a commodity. Yet water services are a basic human right and an indispensable responsibility for a government, and there is consensus among many people and experts over this. Hence the author of the book passed his judgment based on profitability is in itself questionable. He simply dismissed out of hand that for decades the government has not intended to make a profit from the water supply in the first place; it merely wants to cover the basic costs. The government supplies water to remote villages where most often the residents are underprivileged. It may cost several ten thousand dollars to set up the water mains but this is a basic right for these citizens. Therefore it is not appropriate to judge this question according to profitability.

Another hypothesis of the author was that private water supply is more efficient than public water supply. I don’t know what sorts of data are provided to support his argument. One must looks at objective criteria though. And the fact is that our current performance has already reached the standard required by the WHO, with a water supply coverage reaching 99%. Over the past years our work has gained public recognition and we have strived to improve our services.