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Profile: Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion (OSN)
Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion (OSN) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The population of Buenos Aires grows from 3 to 9.5 million. During this time, the city’s public water and sewage utility company, Obres Sanitarias, is hit with a number of budget cuts recommended by the IMF and World Bank, and cannot afford to implement the needed upgrades and improvements. By the late 1980s, it is apparent that the utility will need a huge infusion of capital to extend its services to the new inhabitants of the city. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007] Less than two thirds of the city’s population is connected to the water system while less than half has access to the sewers. Moreover, up to 50 percent of the system’s water is lost because of leaks. As a result, the per capita consumption of water is an extremely high 600 liters per customer. [Inter Press Service, 4/13/1993; CBC News, 3/31/2004] The World Bank steps in and offers to lend Argentina hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure—but only on the condition that it privatize Obres Sanitarias. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007] Critics of the privatization plan will later argue that despite its lack of cash-on-hand, Obras Sanitarias was a “well-run company” with little debt and was capable of expanding on its own—had it been sufficiently funded. [Santoro, 2/6/2003]
Eduardo Cevallo, head of the Buenos Aires’ public utility, Obres Sanitarias, says that the state is unable to come up with the billions of dollars in investments that are needed to prevent the collapse of the city’s water and sewer system. He thus argues that Obres Sanitarias is “a model for privatization.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003]
After the decision is made to privatize Obres Sanitarias, Buenos Aire’s public water and sewer utility, rates climb 62 percent. Additionally, the utility introduces an 18 percent sales tax. [CBC News, 3/31/2004; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]
Aguas Argentinas, a recently formed consortium of private companies, wins a 30-year concession to operate Buenos Aire’s water utility. It is awarded the concession because it promised a greater reduction in water rates than the other bidders. But it was close. Aguas Argentinas’s bid was 26.9 percent, just a fraction higher than the bid of another company, Aguas de Buenos Aires, which offered a rate decrease of 26.1 percent. According to the concession agreement, the company cannot raise rates for at least 10 years (rates have risen 62 percent since privatization was put on the agenda two years ago (see 1991-1993)). Additionally, it must invest $1.4 billion in the system, and connect more than 4,200,000 people to water and 4,800,000 to sewage systems. The foreign stakeholders in Aguas Argentinas include French companies Compagnie Générale des Eaux (later known as Vivendi; 8 percent), Lyonnaise des Eaux (later known as the Suez Group; 25.3 percent), Sociedad General de Aguas de Barcelona (12.6 percent), and Anglian Water (4.5 percent). The remaining stakes are held by Argentine companies Bank of Galicia (8.1 percent), Grupo Meller (10.8 percent), and Sociedad Comercial del Plata (20.7 percent). Grupo Meller is run by Sergio Meller, a supporter of Argentine President Carlos Menem, and Sociedad Comercial del Plata is owned by businessman Santiago Soldati, another close ally of Menem. [Santoro, 2/6/2003]
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