Lessons

The Fort Beaufort PPP was less a partnership than a series of escalating conflicts between the state and the service provider. The council learnt the harsh lesson that the loss of political and financial flexibility need not have happened had it chosen to restructure internally rather than outsource. Councillors felt that they were debt collectors for WSSA and were resentful at having to bear the full risk of consumer non-payment, particularly when the non-payment was in part motivated by a poor quality of service provided by WSSA. Cost creep in contract payments was a clear danger signal that WSSA charges were out of line with economic and political dynamics of the town and foreclosed politically and socially progressive alternatives. In the end, for the company, the contract may merely have been a wedge to enter the South African water business (Ruiters 2002), but it provided a salutary warning that deep socio-ecological entanglements would haunt attempts at commercial service delivery.

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