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Title: Drivers and barriers to change in desalinated water governance in the GCC : a comparative approach to water privatisations in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Kuwait City
Author: Lambert, Laurent A.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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The global water crisis has often been presented as a crisis of governance and attributed to various factors, including the slowness of institutional adjustments to rapid structural challenges such as demographic growth, resource degradation and economic difficulties (UNU-INWEH, 2012). Despite the rapid growth of cities around the world and a fast increase in the use of desalination for freshwater supply (WHO, 2011), the dynamics of institutional change in desalinated urban water governance have never been researched. This thesis investigates the drivers, barriers and counter-forces to a major institutional change - privatisation - in the desalinated water governance of the coastal cities of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. Through the cases of public private partnerships (PPPs) in Abu Dhabi and Doha and the failed attempt to implement similar PPPs in Kuwait City, this research investigates the diverse forces that have led to the implementation of this new institutional arrangement in order to question - both empirically and theoretically - the literature’s general assumption that privatisation reforms in urban water services in the South arise from structural issues, e.g. a water crisis, an economic crisis and/or a governance crisis. The three main schools of comparative studies are used systematically to test hypotheses about causal relationships between selected variables. The structural approach is applied to examine the influences of the redistributive rentier state, oil price fluctuations and regional energy integration over the privatisation process. Adopting a Post-colonial perspective, the political culture approach is used to examine critically the contemporary influences of traditional cultural features, key local institutions and foreign cultural influences over the fluctuating roles of both the State and the markets in the local urban water supply since the late 19th century. Finally, the rational agency theory is used to examine the role in the recent privatisation process of key political figures from the ruling families. This research demonstrates that the privatisation process of desalination units in Abu Dhabi and Doha was not driven by structural factors during the 2000s, a period of high oil prices, but was initiated in the 1990s and driven the following decade by the agency of a reforming elite wanting to privatize the water sector as part of a broader dynamic of construction of a neoliberal post-rentier economy – i.e. an intermediary political economic paradigm that aims to mediate the transition from rentierism to a fully liberalized economy. The political culture approach shows that these privatisations were facilitated by a gradual shift from pure rentierism towards a post-rentier form of neoliberalism in the political philosophy of liberal water technocrats on the one hand, and towards a regional trend of ‘pious neoliberalism’ (Atia, 2011) among practicing Sunni Muslims. Nevertheless, the enduring rentier mentality has constituted a strong counter-force to privatisation dynamics. The PPPs were implemented in Abu Dhabi and Doha because the local ruling elites situated the political bargaining within the tribal institutional milieus that they mastered completely through the control of the rent and related benefits. In Kuwait however, negotiations between the ruling elites and the leading political forces, the tribes and the opposition, were situated in a parliamentary institutional milieu that the ruling elite could not control and where the opposition and tribal MPs have opposed all reforms of the rentier ruling bargain. These findings illustrate that institutional changes in desalinated water governance are not neutrally driven by uncontrollable structural forces, but are the product of political bargaining between and among various rational political actors and their coalitions. This thesis also shows that in non-democratic or semi-democratic settings, the choice of a specific institutional milieu by the authorities is critical to the successful bargaining of institutional reforms, since it determines whether some key actors - along with structural factors (e.g. rent) and cultural factors (e.g. tribal influence) - will support the process or will be able to act against it.
Supervisor: McDonnell, Rachael Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Geography ; Middle East ; Islam ; Anthropology of policy ; Social Sciences ; Governance and ethics ; Human development ; Political science ; International studies ; Political ideologies ; GCC; Abu Dhabi; Doha; Kuwait; Qatar; Water; Desalination; Privatization