Politicising the sustaining of water supply in Ireland - the role of accounting concepts
Jollands, Stephen; Quinn, Martin
Date: 1 January 2017
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Purpose This paper examines how the Irish government mobilised accounting concepts to assist in implementing domestic water billing. While such is commonplace in other jurisdictions and is generally accepted as necessary to sustain a water supply, previous attempts were unsuccessful and a political hot potato. Design/methodology/approach ...
Purpose This paper examines how the Irish government mobilised accounting concepts to assist in implementing domestic water billing. While such is commonplace in other jurisdictions and is generally accepted as necessary to sustain a water supply, previous attempts were unsuccessful and a political hot potato. Design/methodology/approach We use an actor-network theory inspired approach. Specifically, the concepts of calculative spaces and their ‘otherness’ to non-calculative spaces are used to analyse how accounting concepts were mobilised and the effects they had in the introduction of domestic water billing. We utilise publically available documents such as legislation, programmes for government, regulator publications, media reports and parliamentary records in our analysis over the period from 1983 to late 2014. Findings Our analysis highlights how the implementation of domestic water billing involved the assembling of many divergent actors including the mobilisation of accounting concepts. Specifically the concept of ‘cost’ became a contested entity. The government mobilised it in a conventional way to represent the resourcing of the water supply. Countering this, domestic water users associated ‘cost’ with a direct impact on their own resources and lives. Thus, an entity usually associated with the economic realm was embroiled in political processes, with much of what they were supposed to represent becoming invisible. Thus we observed accounting concepts being mobilised to support the gaining of a specific political ends, the implementation of domestic billing, rather than as part of the means to implement a sustainable water supply within Ireland. Research limitations/implications This research has some limitations, one being we draw on secondary data. However, our research does provide a detailed base from which to continue to study a new water utility over time. Originality/value This study demonstrates the complications that can occur when accounting concepts are associated with gaining of a political ends rather than as a means in the process of trying to achieve a sustainable water supply. Further, the process saw the creation of a new utility, which is a rare occurrence in the developed world, and a water utility even more so; this study demonstrates the role accounting concepts can have in this creation.
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