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Whither accountability?: A comparative case study of the Berlin Waterworks and the Berne wastewater utility

Eva Lieberherr
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Zürich
Eva Lieberherr
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Zürich
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Abstract

Since the latter half of the 20th Century, the welfare state has been responsible for providing WS services in Western European countries - ensuring such public interest goals as universal service delivery; thus emphasis was on political accountability to produce political legitimacy. However, recent reforms (e.g., New Public Management) with a focus on market-based practices in the deliverance of public services, have led to governance structures that no longer fully conform to democratic procedures and thus have implications for traditional political accountability. In this context, increasing emphasis is placed on “new” alternative forms of accountability such as managerial and performance. In the context of the WS sector, the question then arises whether public interest goals (e.g., affordability) can be upheld (and thus produce political legitimacy) when accountability mechanisms focus on performance goals (e.g., profitability). We address these implications by theoretically developing and empirically testing hypotheses regarding the relationship between differing accountability forms and political legitimacy in the WS sector. We accomplish this by conducting a comparative case study of two contrasting WS organizations: 1) the Berlin Waterworks – a public-private-partnership between the city-state of Berlin, Germany and the private investors RWE and Veolia – and 2) the wastewater utility in Berne, Switzerland – a joint-stock corporation with ten stock-holding municipalities. By comparing a public-private-partnership with a publicly owned organization, we assess the role of traditional political as well as alternative accountability forms and their effect on political legitimacy and democratic governance.