Struggling for Public Water Services in Bucharest

In September 2015 Romanian Anti-Corruption Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against intermediaries acting on behalf of the private company ApaNova/Veolia, the provider of water services in Bucharest. Bucharest local councillors had allegedly taken bribes in order to approve tariff increases. The documents presented by the prosecutors showed how water prices doubled between 2008 and 2015 (a 125% increase). Further investigation in October and November 2015 led to the direct indictment of the company itself for an alleged tax evasion worth 5 million euro, among other accusations.

Bucharest privatised its water services in 2000 after a 2-year buffer period during which the concession procedure took place. The World Bank and the International Financial Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, acted as consultants. The decision to outsource the sewage and water services occurred in the context of poor water quality and sewage services provided by the then public company, Regie Autonome. This Company required investments of over 1 billion dollars, which the municipality claimed it could not afford to make.

Read more on the website of LeftEast

What is the point of a regulator if water companies can overcharge customers £1.2bn?

All we can do is plead for a regulator capable of keeping these voracious private companies under control.

Of all the privatisations carried out in Margaret Thatcher’s time, the one least popular with the public was the sell-off of 10 publicly owned water authorities to private companies. Government ministers defended the sale by explaining that rain did not simply fall from the sky and find its own way to where it was needed. They rightly pointed out that it requires a huge industry to get clean water through the tap into the home or the workplace and to take away dirty water and sewage, clean it, and pump it back again. The argument put forward at the time of privatisation, in 1989, was that private companies could carry out this work more efficiently.

This was a triumph of ideology over common sense. Though it is true that companies that compete in the marketplace have to be more efficient to survive, there is no market pressure on water and sewage companies. The customer cannot choose the supplier. Who they get depends on where they live: if it is Cornwall, it is South West Water; in Wales it is Dwr Cymru; in the North-west of England it is United Utilities, and so on. 

Nor can the customer haggle over price: they pay what the companies charge, or risk having their water supply turned off. To mitigate that problem, the government created Ofwat in 1989, a quango whose job is to set maximum prices and thus protect customers from being fleeced by these monopolies.

Read more on the website of The Independent

No Water in the Land of Plenty

The Human Right to Water and Sanitation is still not a reality in Europe. All across the continent there are people living without access to clean water, and many of them are Roma. Europe is home to 10-12 million Roma people.

Since 2014 the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) – an international public interest organisation working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma – has been conducting research on access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation in Romani neighbourhoods in seven countries. We have focused on analysing problems with accessibility, affordability, and quality of drinking water resources, as well as with sanitation in Romani neighbourhoods and settlements. The research has also examined potential cases of ethnic discrimination in the distribution and availability of these public utilities.

Prior to the ERRC’s research, there was very little information available about access to safe drinking water and sanitation for Romani communities in Europe. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Roma Survey (2011), in many European countries a large proportion of Romani households were still not connected to a piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water whose quality was not tested by the competent public authorities.

Read more on the website of Food & Water Europe

Tens of Thousands Flood Dublin Demanding Abolition of Austerity Tax On Water

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Irish capital on Saturday to demand the abolition of a controversial water tax—an austerity measure that protesters say violates the human right to this vital good.

The campaign Right2Water announced in a press statement on Saturday that over 80,000 people from across Ireland took part in the demonstration. The group, whose steering committee organized the rally, had insisted ahead of the event that a big turnout is vital to "send a clear message that we refuse to be bullied and intimidated into acquiescence."

The Dublin rally was the latest mass mobilization in a protracted fight to head off a top-down push to directly charge residents for water use, to satisfy European Union and International Monetary Fund demands.

Beyond declaring that they "won't pay," protesters also seek to take proactive steps to prevent the government from privatizing Ireland's water bureau, Irish Water.

Read more on CommonDreams

Is Cash-Strapped Portugal Using Austerity as an Excuse to Privatise Water?

Water privatisation is once again a topic of debate in Portugal. The subject was recently discussed in the Portuguese parliament, where the leader of the The Greens party, Heloisa Apolonia, accused the government of “withdrawing its promises on the water sector”.

Minister of Environment Jorge Moreira da Silva has assured that authorities will not privatise Águas de Portugal (ADP), the national company that manages water supply in the country. However, the minister is supporting the restructuring of the treatment system and water supply — which includes raising tariffs in the coastal municipalities to reduce prices in the interior of the country — to ensure its “economic and financial sustainability.”

Local councilors fear that this restructuring is a step to privatise this essential commodity in the same way the country's urban waste management company fell into private hands in 2014. The country's high levels of debt put it at the mercy of foreign capital, making it more vulnerable to privatisation.

But the minister has rejected this theory, saying that the reform implemented avoids this scenario. Moreira da Silva says the plan will lead to greater equity in the cost of water across the country.

Read more on the website of GlobalVoice

Trading Away Public Water: Trade Negotiations and Water Services

Even as we are still resisting the last one, pushed by the European Commission through the Troika (together with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), we are facing another huge risk from new trade agreements that the EU is negotiating at a multilateral scale. The most important and worrying are the nearly finished Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, also known as TAFTA) with the United States; and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), negotiated among 50 countries.

Where Do These Treaties Stand?

TTIP
The first round of negotiations between the United States and the EU took place in July 2013. The TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement aimed at reducing tariffs on imports. Both sides recognise that the main target is to remove “regulatory barriers”, which would include an attack on social and environmental standards and regulation. Another primary objective is to create new markets by opening up public services and public procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations.

CETA
The negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and Canada were launched in 2009, and they concluded in August 2014. The text includes chapters on regulatory co-operation, food and consumer product standards, technical barriers to trade, public procurement, trade in services and investment protection. The agreement still has to go through the approval process by both parties.

TISA
TISA is being negotiated by a self-selected group of 23 governments representing 50 countries, including the United States and the EU. These countries represent more than two thirds of global trade in services. Talks began in 2012, outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. The negotiations aim to allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favourable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time, the agreement could block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services.

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