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The Buenos Aires water concession

Lorena Alcázar (), Manuel Abdala () and Mary M. Shirley

No 2311, Policy Research Working Paper Series from The World Bank

Abstract: The signing of a concession contract for the Buenos Aires water and sanitation system in December 1992, attracted worldwide attention, and caused considerable controversy in Argentina. It was one of the world's largest concessions, but the case was also interesting for other reasons. The concession was implemented rapidly, in contrast with slow implementation of privatization in Santiago, for example. And reform generated major improvements in the sector, including wider coverage, better service, more efficient company operations, and reduced waste. Moreover, the winning bid brought an immediate 26.9 percent reduction in water system tariffs. Consumers benefited from the system's expansion and from the immediate drop in real prices, which was only partly reversed by subsequent changes in tariffs, and access charges. And these improvements would probably not have occurred under public administration of the system. Still, the authors show information asymmetries, perverse incentives, and weak regulatory institutions could threaten the concession's sustainability. Opportunities for the company to act opportunistically - and the regulator, arbitrarily - exist, because of politicized regulation, a poor information base, serious flaws in the concession contract, a lumpy and ad hoc tariff system, and a general lack of transparency in the regulatory process. Because of these circumstances, public confidence in the process has eroded. The Buenos Aires concession shows how important transparent, rule-based decision-making is to maintain public trust in regulated infrastructure.

Keywords: Health Economics&Finance; Environmental Economics&Policies; Water Conservation; Water and Industry; Decentralization; Town Water Supply and Sanitation; Environmental Economics&Policies; Water and Industry; Water Supply and Sanitation Governance and Institutions; Water Conservation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2000-04-30
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