Irish Water & Lobbies – 2010

By Manon Godot, 18th of November 2010

In Ireland, the distribution of water supply to private houses and businesses falls under the responsibility of the Irish government (Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government) and the local authorities. Since 1997, no domestic water charges are paid by the consumers, who can benefit from the public mains for free as long as their house is connected to the public water supplies.

In its budget for 2010, the Irish government announced however that he was “committed to the introduction of a system of water metering in homes. Water charges, when introduced, will be based on the level of consumption above a certain free allocation.” According to the government, this measure was voted as part as the EU Water Framework Directive in order to encourage water saving.

So from now on, consumers would benefit from a free allocation of water, above which they would have to pay proportionally to their consumption per meter. The new regulation would involve the installation of water meters in all the private homes and companies of the country, equivalent to a budget of five to six hundred million euros, money that the Irish government does not have. To solve this issue, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan decided to turn to private sources of funding, and is currently considering the proposal of the company Siemens to finance the installation of 1.1 million water meters all over the country.

The German engineering conglomerate “Siemens” is the largest combination of corporations in Europe, active worldwide in the fields of industry, energy and healthcare. Siemens proposed to lend the money for the installation of the water meters, and the government would then pay back, using the savings of the Water Service Program.

According to “Bnet” (CBS interactive business network), a secret meeting would have already been set up between Siemens and the Irish Minister for Finance, in order to discuss the company’s offer. What is certain is that no put out to tender has been launched by the government in order to find companies willing to finance the new water scheme project, which make the whole concession-process suspicious. One might wonder why Siemens’s offer is benefiting from a preferential treatment, while other companies have also shown interest in the funding of water meters. This whole happening is a perfect example of the power of industry lobbies on the public decision-making process; or how corporations driven by economic interests control the governments’ policy.

Many also fear that the concession by the government of a monopoly on the national water scheme to such a big private corporation won’t be compatible with the public interest. A company like Siemens doesn’t act for altruistic reasons, and the control of one of the most important national resources by such a conglomerate is for the company a great promise of benefit, not necessarily compatible with public interest.

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