Purpose: The ownership of waterworks is topical in many countries and especially developed countries seem to speak for public ownership instead of private ownership. This paper attempts to provide a new view of the debate between public and private ownership by presenting three public governance models and comparing them in the light of waterworks performance. Design/methodology/approach: The research is qualitative in nature and presents SWOT analyses of three different public governance models used in the Finnish water sector. Empirical evidence was collected mainly through interviewing Finnish waterworks managers. Findings: The results indicate that there are clear differences between the autonomy and transparency of the most common public governance models. Reforming waterworks organised as municipal units into municipal-owned enterprises and municipal-owned companies is considered a good option compared to, for example, privatisation or outsourcing. Practical implications: According to this study, restructuring appears to increase business orientation, improve accuracy in bookkeeping and, in some cases, increase transparency. The selection of the right governance model also provides opportunities for institutional investors. Originality/value: While previous research has concentrated on comparing public and private ownership, this paper presents and discusses three public governance models and what kind of opportunities they present to public service provision. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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