email resource!
about the website
contact us

PrivatisationAlternatives / ReformsPublic-Public PartnershipsFinancing Public Water
Case StudiesAnalysesCampaigns

Jun 30 2006
Supplied or written by Nami Yamamoto and Abel Esteban

Towards successful water delivery

Interview with Silvano Silverio da Costa, the president of ASSEMAE


Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

June, 2006


The National Association of Municipal Services of Water and Sanitation (ASSEMAE) has recently published the book “Twenty successful experiences of public utility service in water supply and sanitation”[1]. ASSEMAE, created in 1984, defends the interests of municipal public utilities that deal with water supply, sanitation, handling of solid waste and rain water. The book is a collection of diverse on-going efforts to improve public water, from all over . According to Silvano Silverio da Costa, the president of ASSEMAE, these successful Brazilian experiences show that public water supply can be improved through participation and democratic control (in Brazil described as 'social control'). In an interview that took place during the “Linking Alternatives 2” conference (in Vienna in May 2006, parallel to the EU-Latin America summit), Da Costa outlined his vision for promoting public water internationally, also through public-public partnerships across borders.


Q. How does ASSEMAE define a “successful” experience in water management?

Let me explain our vision of successful management and the methodology we used in order to select 20 experiences. We first chose nine criteria to measure the quality and level of management of municipal water companies. We then asked independent experts to select those municipalities which either meet all criteria in a satisfactory manner, or one or several criteria in an outstanding manner. Amongst the 89 candidates, 20 municipalities were selected on the basis of regional balance and diversity in size.  We do not consider these cases as the best practices in the world, but they are good examples and worth sharing. We believe there are many more cases which are not well-known.


9 criteria to be “successful”

Universal access – universal provision to the target population;

Equity – all receive the same quality of services, irrespective of social-economic status and urban situation in which they live;

Integrality – integration across service elements; provision with an integrated vision, that understands sanitation as a set of actions, involving, at the very least, water supply, sanitation, public cleansing, rain drainage and control of vectors;

Municipal Responsibility – recognition of and respect for municipal autonomy, in line with constitutional requirements;

Public Management - the understanding that sanitation services are public by definition, provided by a public entity by nature, organized as a direct administration organization, public company, or public and private joint stock company. In this final case the decision-making process must rest in the hands of those responsible for the service;

Participation and social control – All interests are represented through an open, visible and participatory process. The population is ultimate owners of the service and its equipment.

Integration across sectors – integration with planning and action associated with urban development, public health, and environmental and water resources. This is where the sanitation system is considered essential in these other areas of policy-action and in the final instance, it is recognized that this is complicated by nature.

Quality of services – which includes regularity, continuity, efficiency, safety, up-to-date, courtesy and moderation of costs;

Access – tariff policy compatible with users’ purchasing power, according to the practice of price moderation.

(source: Successful Municipal Experiences in : Public Utility Service in Water and Sanitation, Silvano Silvério da Costa, President of ASSEMAE)


Let me introduce you to some of successful cases. In Alagoinhas, in the north-eastern part of , popular participation – in the form of a series of citizens’ conferences – was used to develop the city’s environmental sanitation policies.

These policies cover a wide range of issues, including water management, sewerage, and waste water management. In the city of Guarulhos (state of Sao Paulo), which has a population of 1,2 million, four years of water management reform, resulted in 80,000 families being connected to piped water. This means that 440,000 previously unconnected citizens achieved a major improvement in access to water. Panaplis, another city of in the state of Sao Paulo with 50,000 habitants, has achieved universal coverage of water delivery as well as 100% collection and treatment of waste water. As a result the city has the lowest infantile mortality rate in the state of Sao Paulo. This was achieved through a process of social participation where the water users decided the investment priorities.


Q. What are the common “conditions” that need to be place for the kind of successful experiences described in the book?

I would say there are no common conditions for these successes. Among the selected municipalities are both small and big cities, from the north as well as the south of . All cities have the possibility to achieve good water and sanitary management. However, there is one common factor amongst these municipalities. This factor is the presence of managers and workers commitment to and identification with processes to pursue better service delivery. Such identification does not emerge automatically. In the case of the Brazilian municipalities, the board of directors of the public water companies are appointed by the mayors. Therefore, it is important that civil society controls the mayors and encourages them to be accountable to their citizens in choosing a board with strong commitment to improvement.

An interesting case is the municipality of Guarulhos, where the mayor encouraged the public water company to intentionally do bad management, so that unsatisfied people would later more easily agree with privatisation of the company. Contrary to the mayor’s intention, however, the voters disagreed with this attitude and chose a new mayor in the next election. The new mayor stopped the privatization plans and instead appointed an experienced board which was highly committed to improvements. As this case clearly shows, it is very important to have social control in the system, so the users’ evaluation makes a significant difference in company's political commitment Moreover, social control requires transparency, helps reduce costs and improves the management. Other essential condition is to have a proper technology, since sustainability depends a lot on achieving low levels of water loss. After introducing improved technology, an appropriate tariff setting and transparency in management, there will be more funds available, which enable better access to water and sanitation.


I believe it is important to emphasise that “public service” means to listen and discuss carefully with our public. People desire to have a public service; they won’t accept whatever, but want quality and justice for the tariff they pay. Water management consists of delivery, planning, regulating and budgeting. Social control should cover all these areas in order to ensure that the quality of the service is improved and maintained. Counting on people’s will to defend public services, it is important to develop tools which facilitate and encourage people’s participation.  Users should define what they want, and we have to work towards that achievement, starting from the beginning and work step by step. We, the public operators including me, should focus on always making progress.


Q. Are there any plans to expand those successful experiences within ?

Yes. In , a Law of Consortiums was approved in 2005, which enables partnerships amongst public water operators. These partnerships can be between several municipal operators, between municipal operators and state institutions, or with federal institutions. For instance, in order to maintain and control the quality of water, there is the need to have a laboratory with good facilities, equipment and human resources. Though each small municipality lack sufficient budgets to have its own laboratory, it is possible for several small municipalities to get together and have a common laboratory, sharing the costs. An outstanding example is Piaui[2], one of the poorest regions in Brazil, where the Regional Consortium of Sanitation of Southern Piaui is a first public-public partnership after the implementation of the law. 36 municipalities in the southern part of Piaui together with state government formed a consortium to achieve economy of scale in water delivery[3]. The cities first agreed to jointly regulate and finance water delivery, and if the result is positive, there would also b joint management of wastewater and the treatment of solid waste. Thanks to that law, we are experiencing various kinds of consortiums. Some of these are funded by the National Health Foundation (FUNASA); one of the challenges is to fundraise for expansion of those initiatives.


Q. How about the international level?

We, as ASSEMAE, would like to stimulate and support other regions to shape and consolidate their processes. In June, we will have the National Assembly of ASSEMAE, an annual event where 1,000 to 1,500 of our member organisations get together and exchange experiences. There will be various workshops and roundtables to discuss about our institutional politics, the international situation, to share concrete successful experiences, etc. We are going to have several workshops with international guest speakers which will be a good opportunity to discuss the possibilities to make public-public partnerships happen. We also expect a strong institutional impact from the political statement resulting from the event. The assembly is financed by the federal government.


Q. What is your vision, as ASSEMAE president on international cooperation?

We should definitely exchange our experiences more in order to have progress in our services.


Looking at what happened in , the role of the law on consortia is absolutely crucial in order to enable those exchanges in experiences to happen. If we want to develop these exchanges on the international level, since those inter-continental partnerships require a big financial budget, we must have an appropriate structure to facilitate the process and secure the necessary financing. For instance, Kofi Annan’s advisory board on water and sanitation is one of the options for constructing such a structure internationally.


Q. What are the obstacles for the expansion or maintenance of these successes?

It is very important to secure sufficient funds.

A big concern of mine is how to stimulate those initiatives working in a collaborative way while maintaining the autonomy of the local initiative. For instance, ASSEMAE cannot make a one-size-fits-all type of prescription to the other water companies.

Another concern is that ASSEMAE itself also has a lot of work to do on our own mission. The question is what to prioritise. One of the solutions would be to focus more on the concrete tasks.

Lack of infrastructure will also be a big obstacle, as well as the lack of awareness among managers and staff. If they are appointed by mayors, then governance matters a lot.

The culture of being public civil servants is important. It is our task to make them understand that true social control is important. Even if it might be one of the most difficult tasks, we should work on getting mayors and managers to commit strongly towards better public services, and getting users to commit to defend better public services.

Another hard task is to work collectively: involving civil society as the control body, service providers as the executive body, and local government as the legislative body.


Q. What do you think of the roles of civil society?

One of the important tasks for civil society is the building of the international movement demanding justice in water. A second task that I expect is to fundraise, securing funds to expand the possibilities. The third task is to build research capacity, and to circulate necessary information adequately. For instance, acting as a watchdog of transnational corporations, whose activities are becoming more concerning to me these days. Another important task is to follow-up on activities and initiatives, stimulating them in order to not to disappear and loose speed.

It might be good, I think, to have a kind of association like ASSEMAE in each country, and to connect those associations internationally. I believe the ASSEMAE model functions quite well, though I know it is not so easy to repeat elsewhere. Strengthening regional processes, connecting national associations of public operators, could be the first step forward in order to develop a global process.



Further readings:

"Successful Municipal Experiences in : Public Utility Service in Water and Sanitation", paper by Silvano Silvério da Costa March, 2006. Online at:



[1]  “Twenty successful experiences of public utility service in water supply and sanitation” will soon be available in English, see also

[2] Piauí is one of the states of Brazil, located in the north-eastern part of the country.

[3] More information on this consortium is found in the website of the State Government of Piaui:

This experience was acknowledged by UNDP-Brazil, as one of the attempts to strengthen water and sanitation services, reducing costs and increasing the investment in infrastructure. See the report by UNDP-Brazil,

Welcome to the resource section. Here you can find a wealth of analysis about (alternatives to) privatisation, public-public partnerships, financing public water and other key topics.