Monday, 27 July 2015

Taking a nap: Water privatisation and extended retirement age in practice

A sleeping guard. Photo: Ivo Mirchev
Ivo Mirchev, a fellow-blogger and friend, posted today this photo of a sleeping elderly security guard in the client relations office of Sofia's water supply company. In brief, Ivo observed that the man on the photo is apparently not doing what he is paid for.

I have little sympathy for Sofiyska Voda, the private concessioner of Sofia's water supply and drainage network. Back in the late 1990s the company took over the existing infrastructure and facilities and has been operating them as a monopolist since then without any major investment. Leakages and patching repairs are an everyday reality.

What is worse, the water that is collected from the nearby Rila and Vitosha mountains and is originally excellent in quality and taste, arrives in nearly undrinkable condition to most of Sofia's over 1.2 million inhabitants due to the appalling quality and age of the pipework. Some of them date back from before World War 2 and as I have learned accidentally, the concessioner is not fully aware of the water supply roots, let alone being able to properly maintain and replace them.

In addition to all that, Sofiyska Voda did not bother to even improve client relations significantly. It maintains very few client-relations offices and its phone and internet-based services leave clients with just as rusty a taste in the mouth, as the water delivered from some of their unrepaired 70 years' old pipelines. In my view it clearly demonstrates the shortcomings of the dominant ideological dogma which dictates privatisation of public works without ensuring neither actual market competition, nor improved product quality and client satisfaction.

Sofia's privatised water suuply client service leaves just as rusty a taste in the mouth, as the water from its unrepaired 70 years' old pipelines. 

With all this background in mind, I originally took Ivo Mirchev's photo as yet another anecdote of inefficiency and bad management by yet another corporate monopolist. But a comment made by Petya Ivanova drew my mind to an aspect I had missed: the man on the photo was seemingly in retirement age, or close to it. Indeed, it is the same dogma that dictates also that retirement age should be raised indefinitely, making sure that people are obliged to work literally until they die. So we'd better get used to seeing more and more elderly people trying to do their job and not always being able to cope with it, I commented.

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