Public service delivery is one of the most relevant yet, in some sectors, also one of the most understudied areas of public administration scholarship, particularly when considering the importance of local government-supplied services such as the provision of drinking water, wastewater treatment, sanitation, and the collection, transport, and disposal of garbage. Although there is a substantial body of work that has focused on whether privatization of these locally supplied services will yield positive or negative effects (Bel and Warner 2008; de Gouvello and Scott 2012), much less work on the political implications of public service delivery exists. How are water utilities and wastewater treatment plants harnessed as political tools? What factors drive uneven distribution in service delivery? These aspects are examined in the public service delivery literature to a lesser extent even though these services are extraordinarily important to sustain activities in urban contexts (Pacheco-Vega 2015). This is where Veronica Herrera’s work comes in rather handily. It is relatively easy to say that water is a natural resource that can be weaponized as a political tool, but it is much more difficult to demonstrate how. Herrera succeeds in showcasing how this weaponization occurs. Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico explores how different cities in Mexico have experienced changes in the composition of their governments and how these changes have affected the quality of service delivery, specifically in the field of water and sanitation. As Herrera reminds us, “[p]ublic services are deficient because political leaders use them for political ends, and the political use and abuse of local public services has not lessened uniformly after democratization” (p. 3). One small issue that only becomes apparent upon closer reading could surely be an improvement for future work. The book would probably have benefited from a more in-depth discussion of how water and sanitation have slowly but steadily become a core public policy problem at the subnational level and how complex jurisdictional architectures with overlapping responsibilities and unclear roles for service delivery have complicated the supply of proper drinking water, sewerage, and sanitation services. The federal government has allocated itself specific responsibilities for water that sometimes trump or overlap those that are constitutionally assigned at the outset. Nevertheless, Herrera demonstrates mastery and in-depth knowledge of water issues in Mexico and deploys insights from each of the eight case studies she discusses in a masterful way. Clientelism is a well-known tactic that governments in developing and developed countries use to manipulate voters into swaying electoral outcomes and sustaining particular individuals in government. It would be easy to say that Herrera provides an analysis of clientelistic practices of Mexican local governments that harness water and sanitation services to change how the communities they serve vote and operate. However, Herrera goes well beyond a discussion of clientelism to offer a broad-ranging analytical examination of political motivations, strategic choices, and policy outcomes across several case studies with different contextual characteristics. Herrera’s analysis provides a useful analytical and conceptual framework to think about the use of programmatic policy instruments as political weaponry that interested parties can harness to achieve specific electoral outcomes. Herrera’s book is a much-needed analysis of urban water politics that goes beyond the specifics of the country under study. Although Herrera uses Mexico as the main country of analysis, her subnational comparative case study approach exploring eight cities within three states allows her to offer enough across-case and within-case variation to offer substantial insight that can be more generalizable than simply exploring individual cities’ water utilities and their performance. Even though Herrera’s book is derived primarily from the comparative politics literature, its insights into comparative public policy, public service delivery, and theories of democratization are important for public administration scholars. Both theoretically and empirically, Herrera’s scholarly treatment of research on public services’ governance sheds light on the complex politics behind the design and implementation of policies focused on critical, citizen-oriented sectors such as water and sanitation. Public administration is highly political and politicized, and Water and Politics reminds us of this. Not only is Herrera’s work timely, it is also a solid example of comparative public policy analysis that touches on issues of public service delivery and its political manipulation. As Herrera indicates, “control over who receives access to piped water, how and when they receive it, and how fees from services are used are all important sources of political power” (p. 3). Herrera undertakes rigorous paired comparisons of twin cases across the country: León and Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato; Naucalpan in the state of Mexico and Celaya in Guanajuato; Toluca in Mexico and Xalapa in the coastal state of Veracruz; and Neza (Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl) in Mexico and Veracruz in Veracruz. These paired comparisons (two per chapter) allow Herrera to showcase a wide variety of reform successes and failures and how these are associated with policy insulation, broad and narrow elite incorporation, citizen participation, and activist mobilization. The case of León, Guanajuato, in central Mexico is especially important as it showcases issues of public service delivery that are specific not only to drinking water supply but also to effluent treatment and disposal, a rather understudied topic (with few exceptions, most notably Herrera and Post 2014). Tanneries are extremely polluting, excessively-water-consuming firms whose processes generate solid, liquid, and airborne residues whose disposal and treatment are substantially expensive and technologically complex (Pacheco-Vega and Dowlatabadi 2005). However, this industrial sector holds enormous political power in León. Dominant industry elites could quickly harness increasing influence gained through “citizen involvement” in water governance processes. As Herrera demonstrates, the election of a leather industry leader as the president of the water utility board enabled him to more effectively influence how the public service was managed and provides yet another case of governmental control and capture by industry elites. Herrera cleverly highlights and uncovers the intricate political maneuvering in which the leather industry engaged to maintain clout with the PAN local government. Methodologically speaking, Herrera’s book is robust and helpful both for researchers and students who are interested in undertaking comparative policy analysis using process tracing techniques and systematic comparisons across cases. The fact that Herrera is so interested in offering causal explanations is quite relevant for the kind of work that is necessary in public administration literature. Not only are we interested in potential explanations of phenomena that occur within the public realm, but we are even more attentive to causality and mechanisms. What factors explain the sequence of events that led to the occurrence of a specific policy outcome? Herrera suggests causal explanations for how and when public service provision is particularistic and under which circumstances this phenomenon can occur. Although Herrera’s volume is an excellent theoretical and empirical contribution to the systematic comparative study of water and sanitation policies, it would have been nice to see a more profound coverage of theoretical treatments of the public service delivery literature, particularly in-depth discussions around issues of alternative service delivery models which could range from fully contracted-out management of water utilities to partial licensing to public operations. Although these small gaps do not detract from the overall contribution that Water and Politics offers, their inclusion would probably have strengthened its suitability to teach courses in the governance of public services. Nevertheless, Herrera’s book is a much needed and welcome addition to the field. Herrera’s contribution to the field of urban water governance goes well beyond an in-depth treatment of clientelistic approaches to public service delivery. As Water and Politics shows, programmatic water and sanitation provision can be the result of complex socio-political processes that can have diverging outcomes depending on whether a political party wants to reduce the opposition’s power or engage in improved water service delivery to gain terrain against potential political opponents in a highly competitive electoral environment. In Herrera’s words, “[p]ublic service reforms are political projects: rooting out clientelistic service practices requires political negotiation, and politicians will only invest in reform if they believe that they will benefit politically from programmatic service provision” (p. 201). Water and Politics offers an excellent analysis for scholars of public service delivery interested not only in the water and sanitation sectors but also in understanding how political forces and elite mobilization can harness institutional weaknesses to assert electoral power and gain clout within urban contexts. References Bel , G. , and M. Warner . 2008 . Does privatization of solid waste and water services reduce costs? A review of empirical studies . Resources, Conservation and Recycling 52 : 1337 – 48 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS de Gouvello , B. , and C. A. Scott . 2012 . Has water privatization peaked? The future of public water governance . Water International 37 : 87 – 90 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Herrera , V. , and A. E. Post . 2014 . Can developing countries both decentralize and depoliticize urban water services? Evaluating the legacy of the 1990s reform wave . World Development 64 : 621 – 41 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pacheco-Vega , R . 2015 . Urban Wastewater Governance in Latin America . In Water and Cities in Latin America: Challenges for Latin America , ed. I. Aguilar-Barajas , J. Mahlknecht , J. Kaledin , and A. Earle , 102 – 108 . London, UK : Earthscan/Taylor and Francis . Pacheco-Vega , R. , and H. Dowlatabadi . 2005 . Environmental regulation and economic spaces: The Mexican leather and footwear industrial districts . In New Economic Spaces, New Economic Geographies , ed. R. LeHeron and J. W. Harrington , 154 – 64 . London : Ashgate . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Public Management Research Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 7, 2018
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