March 19, 2006
Public service 'efficient': Water Forum speakers
Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Mexico City
Abimanyu, the president director of Surakarta's public water company, might seem
like a soft-spoken man. However, he made a grueling, 36-hour trip to Mexico City
with one clear aim in mind: To tell the world that he says "No" to
Since his appointment as head of the water company (PDAM) three years ago,
Abimanyu, a speaker at the 4th World Water Forum here, has been approached by
seven private companies, some of them multinationals.
"I told them, no. The municipality supports me; they also don't want
privatization," Abimanyu said Wednesday on the sidelines of the international
symposium "Public Water for All".
Abimanyu says he has proven that public companies are not necessarily
inefficient and corrupt.
"Last year, we made Rp 2 billion (US$215,000) in profit. We hope to increase
that to Rp 4 billion in 2007," he said, adding that if the company could
maintain its healthy financial position, it would be able to repay in full its
World Bank debt of Rp 30 billion by 2018.
Abimanyu said he received a monthly salary of Rp 8 million, while the average
salary of PDAM department heads was Rp 3 million. The sums were reasonable for
officials living in Surakarta.
Nila Ardhianie, director of the AMRTA Institute, which works on water literacy
said, "I live in Surakarta, so I know the water company is efficient and
serving us well." A World Bank report mentioned the company as one of the most
efficient in Indonesia, she added.
Abimanyu seems to be committed to one of the Millennium Development Goals --
halving by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe
drinking water and basic sanitation.
He has also started to manage the company's largest water source in Klaten,
Central Java. He and his colleagues worked for two years, meeting farmers who
live nearby once every two months to draw up a master plan to sustain the water
Another speaker, Michel Partage, mayor of Varages in France, shared his
experience in turning a privatized water company in his municipality back into
a public one.
He said public management for water was not only possible, but also cheaper.
Home to several gargantuan private water companies like Suez, France thought
Partage and his de-privatization move were crazy.
"After we took over the management, we realized that the water company could
stay healthy without raising water tariffs by 100 percent, as the private
company had demanded," Partage said.
In Jakarta, since privatization took effect in 1998, two private partners of
Jakarta water companies, PT Thames PAM Jaya and PAM Lyonnaise Jaya, have
received criticism of their high operational costs.
A symposium on alternatives to privatization of inefficient public water
companies was held here by global non-governmental organizations, given the
problems reportedly caused by the privatization of water companies in a number
Organizers of the symposium included Transnational Institute, Corporate Europe
Observatory, Friends of the Earth International and World Development Movement.
Its three topics on strengthening public water service gathered hundreds of
listeners from across five continents.
"We've lost the battle on privatization articles in the water law last year. Now
we are here to listen to experiences from other countries, so we can lay out a
new strategy regarding water supply," said Budi Widianarko, a professor of food
ecology at the Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang, Central Java.
It all might seem like a lame reason to travel such a long way simply to share
experiences. Nevertheless, for people who swim against the prevailing current,
networking is crucial.
"The important thing is not to be alone. If we join forces, we can be
successful," Partage said.