Because water services are a private good, a merit good, an economic good and subject to market failure, the provision of water services features prominently on the political agenda in many countries, essentially making it a “political good”. Being a political good, the majority of water supply and sanitation services are still provided by public sector organizations. These public utilities have often provided very poor services and one of the main causes of the failure to provide adequate services is the political involvement in the sector. As a result, many professionals have called for the stringent separation of the political realm from service provision.

In this article it is argued that the realities of the water services sector are such that a stringent separation of the political realm from the management of the service provider is unrealistic, if not naive. Moreover, the article seeks to present a more nuanced view of the relationship between politics and service provision by arguing that service providers, who have improved services significantly, have been able to do so because of support from the political realm, which extended well beyond the activities of making policy.

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