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Water

Project: Water Privatization
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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]

Entity Tags: World Bank, Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion

Category Tags: Argentina

A number of French dignitaries, including French Minister of Commerce Bruno Durieux, travels to Buenos Aires to lobby on behalf of two French companies—Compagnie Générale des Eaux and Lyonnaise des Eaux—which are trying to win a concession to operate the city’s water utility. On one visit, Durieux reportedly says that France will increase its investments in Argentina based on “how many privatizations we win.” Daniel Chain of Aguas de Buenos Aires will later recall, “The Embassy of France was hyperactive throughout the concession process. Every week it invited political leaders to lunches attended by French ministers. However, the Embassy of Great Britain, which supposedly was supporting the bid of the British company, Thames, had a low profile. It was an unequal fight.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003 Sources: Daniel Chain]

Entity Tags: Suez Group, Compagnie Générale des Eaux, Bruno Durieux

Category Tags: Argentina

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]

Entity Tags: Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion, Eduardo Cevallo

Category Tags: Argentina

The World Bank approves and provides funds for a team of British private sector technical and financial consultants to advise the Argentine government on the privatization of its water and sewer sector. [CBC News, 3/31/2004]

Entity Tags: World Bank

Category Tags: Argentina

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]

Entity Tags: Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion

Category Tags: Argentina

World Bank president Lewis Preston, in the luxurious dining room of the Argentine Jockey Club, over plates of smoked salmon and duck à l’orange, declares that Argentina’s “process of adjustment” is “an example for all of Latin America.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis Preston

Category Tags: Argentina

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]

Entity Tags: Grupo Meller, Anglian Water, Aguas de Barcelona, Bank of Galicia, Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios, Sociedad Comercial del Plata, Suez Group, Obres Sanitarias de la Nacion, Compagnie Générale des Eaux, Sociedad General de Aguas de Barcelona

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas, according to its own figures, enjoys a profit margin of between 15 and 25 percent each year. Other economists cited by the Inter-American Development Bank put the profit rate much higher—as high as 40 percent. [Santoro, 2/6/2003] According to Daniel Azpiazu, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences, this rate of profit is far above the industry average. “In the United States, for example, water companies earned between 6-12.5 percent profits in 1991,” Azpiazu says. “In the United Kingdom a reasonable rate of profit for the sector is between 6-7 percent. In France, 6 percent is considered a very reasonable return on investment.” [CorpWatch, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas, Daniel Azpiazu

Category Tags: Argentina

Buenos Aires’ public water utility, Obras Sanitarias, is privatized under heavy pressure from the World Bank, the IMF, and the US government. It is taken over by Aguas Argentinas, a recently formed consortium of private companies that won a 30-year concession to manage the city’s water and sewage system (see December 9, 1992). The deal represents the largest transfer in history of a water service and watershed to the private sector. The consortium will be responsible for providing water to the residents of Buenos Aires and 14 surrounding municipalities—some 10 million people (see also 1980s-1993). Oversight of Aguas Argentinas will be conducted by the newly formed regulatory body, ETOSS (Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios). Its task will be to monitor the quality of service, represent customers, and ensure that the company fulfills the terms of its contract. [Inter Press Service, 4/13/1993; Santoro, 2/6/2003; CorpWatch, 2/26/2004; CBC News, 3/31/2004; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas (see also April 28, 1993) cuts off the supply of water to non-paying customers, roughly 10 percent of Buenos Aires’ population. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Argentine President Carlos Menem issues a decree placing his political ally Secretary of the Environment Maria Julia Alsogaray in charge of ETOSS, the government regulatory body that provides oversight of Aguas Argentinas. Critics say the move is aimed at protecting Aguas Argentinas from public accountability. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Maria Julia Alsogaray, Carlos Menem, Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios

Category Tags: Argentina

The World Bank purchases a five percent stake in Aguas Argentinas, a consortium of private water companies that took over Buenos Aires’ public water utility in 1993. As the civil society organization Public Citizen will later note, the bank’s investment makes it “a lender in, partner in, and public relations arm of their ‘model privatization project.’” The 1993 privatization of the city’s water utility had been made under pressure from the World Bank and IMF. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas, World Bank, Public Citizen

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas, a privately owned company that provides the city of Buenos Aires with its water supply, petitions the newly established government authority, ETOSS, for a rate increase of 13.5 percent. The company had previously agreed not to seek any rate increases for 10 years (see April 28, 1993). But according to Carlos Ben of Aguas Argentinas, “What was said in 1993, that there was not going to be an increase in rates for 10 years, was not meant in absolute terms. It was to indicate to the bidders that they should not put a speculative number [on rate reductions]. There was not a presumption of a freezing of rates.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003] The company also claims that it has suffered $23 million in losses because of “extra-contractual costs,” such as speeding up service in very poor neighborhoods. ETOSS, whose operations are financed through the collection of 2.6 percent of Aguas Argentinas’ revenue, approves the request on the condition that the company expedite expanding water and sewage service to the “villas de emergencia” (shanty towns), and that it implement a plan to eliminate the use of well water, which is heavily contaminated with nitrates. [Santoro, 2/6/2003; CBC News, 3/31/2004; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007] A decade later, Menahem Libhaber, the chief water and sanitation engineer for the World Bank in Latin America, will tell the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that false promises are simply part of the game. “You get into the business with low rates or high commitments—all the while telling yourself, ‘When we are in we will renegotiate,’ The public sector has to be aware,” he says, that companies are disingenuously putting their best foot forward. “Sometimes it’s a game to get into the business.… And they [the companies] have leverage once they are in.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas, Carlos Ben, Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios

Category Tags: Argentina

By this date, Aguas Argentinas, the company hired in 1993 to provide water and sewer service to the residents of Buenos Aires (see April 28, 1993), has invested roughly 45 percent less ($300 million) on expanding services than required by its contract. The company blames the failure on bad debt, late payments, and a downturn in the Argentine economy. During this period, the company has been able to maintain a comfortable 20 percent profit margin. [CBC News, 3/31/2004]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas, a consortium of North American and European private water companies, announces an $800 water and sewer connection fee. The new fee is met with large scale protests, and thousands of demonstrators block the roads leading to the city (see April 1996). [Santoro, 2/6/2003; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Residents of the suburban Buenos Aires town of Lomas de Zamora protest the new $800 water and sewage connections fees being charged by Aguas Argentinas (see Spring 1996). The movement quickly spreads and thousands of new water clients block roads into the capital. [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

An Argentine congressional commission issues a report accusing Aguas Argentinas, a consortium of private water companies that took over management of the city’s water and sewer system in 1993 (see April 28, 1993), of “serious and grave” breaches of contract, failing to meet goals regarding infrastructure development, and failing to inform its regulatory body, ETOSS, of its operations. It orders the company to suspend new connection fees for 800,000 new users in Buenos Aires. [Santoro, 2/6/2003; CBC News, 3/31/2004; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas, Argentine Congress

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas and the regulatory body that governs it, ETOSS, come to an agreement on the controversial $800 water and sewer connection fee (see Spring 1996). The company will lower the connection fee to $200, but create a new “Universal Service” fee that all of its customers must pay. In agreeing on the fee, ETOSS essentially allows the company to impose a fee that had not been specified in the 1992 concession agreement (see December 9, 1992). An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will later point out, “The real winner was Aguas Argentinas. It had succeeded in imposing fees not described in its contract.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios, Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas begins pushing hard for revisions to its 30-year contract to manage Buenos Aires’ water and sewer system. The World Bank, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the project and has a five percent stake in it, sends Ventura Bengoechea, one of its senior water managers, to join Aguas Argentinas. The manager stays with Aguas Argentinas until a new contract is signed in 2000. During that period he remains on the World Bank’s payroll. [Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Ventura Bengoechea, World Bank, Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

The head of ETOSS, the regulatory agency that oversees the management of Buenos Aires’ privatized water and sewer utility, tells Congress that Aguas Argentinas has only built a third of the new pumping stations and underground mains it promised to complete by 1997. Moreover, it has only spent 9.4 million of the promised 48.9 million in improving the sewage system. Citing the supposed need for “further investigation,” the company has put off construction of the Berazategui wastewater treatment plant. As a result, sewage is being dumped into rivers and cesspools, raising nitrate levels in the water (nitrates reduce the flow of oxygen to the brain in infants) and increasing the risk of various waterborne illnesses. According to the World Bank, by delaying the project, Aguas Argentinas is saving $100,000 dollars a day. [Inter Press Service, 4/13/1993]

Entity Tags: World Bank, Aguas Argentinas, Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of the privately-owned US corporation Bechtel through International Water, purchases a 40-year concession to operate the public water system of Cochabamba, Bolivia after the country is pressured by the World Bank and IMF to privatize its water services in return for a $25 million loan. It had been an apparent easy win for Bechtel, whose bid was the only one considered for the contract. Despite promises that the privatization of Cochabamba’s water would not send prices skyrocketing, that is exactly what happens. In December of 1999, Aguas del Tunari doubles the price of water and as a result, water bills in some households jump to over $20 per month. This is devastating to Cochabamba’s poor, many of whom earn monthly wages of about $67. But the privatization scheme is not limited to just the privatization of water services. The World Bank also pressures the Bolivian government to pass several other laws protecting the interests of the water company. One law pegs the cost of water to the US dollar in order to eliminate the company’s exposure to changes in the Bolivian currency’s exchange rate. Another law grants water privateers exclusive rights to Bolivia’s water. Now, Bolivians would have to pay for every drop of water they use, even if it comes from their own wells or is rainwater they collect on their own property. And to protect Bolivia’s creditors from the risk of Bolivia defaulting on the loan, the World Bank prohibits the government from using a portion of the aid money to help the poor pay for their water. Angered by the water privatization, Bolivians take to the streets. Hundreds of demonstrators are injured and one youth is killed during the protests. Finally, in April 1999, the company leaves Bolivia. Bechtel will later attempt to sue the Bolivian government for $25 million for breach of contract. [Z Magazine, 4/24/2000; PBS Frontline, 6/2002; Pacific News Service, 11/11/2002; Democracy Center, 9/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Bechtel

Timeline Tags: US-Bolivia (1951-2000)

Aguas Argentinas, the private company that is managing Buenos Aires’ water and sewer services, asks ETOSS, a government regulatory agency, to raise water rates by 11.7 percent. When ETOSS approves only a 1.61 percent increase, the company turns to Secretary of the Environment Maria Julia Alsogaray, who then persuades President Carlos Menem to authorize a 5.1 percent rate hike. It eventually turns into a 17 percent increase. When a judge freezes a portion of the rate hike, the government successfully appeals. [Santoro, 2/6/2003] Aguas Argentinas’ original 1992 contract with Argentina had stipulated that the company could not raise rates for at least ten years (see December 9, 1992). This is the second such increase in rates (see also (Early 1994)).

Entity Tags: Carlos Menem, Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios, Maria Julia Alsogaray, Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

Aguas Argentinas signs a new contract with Argentina for the management of Buenos Aires’ water and sewer services. In negotiating the new contract, the company enlisted the support of Argentine President Carlos Menem. Additionally, it threatened not to invest any more funds into expanding water and sewer access to poor neighborhoods until the new contract was signed. The new agreement significantly reduces the company’s obligations to Buenos Aires. The original 1992 concession agreement (see December 9, 1992) required Aguas Argentinas to invest $1.4 billion in the system, and connect more than 4,200,000 people to water and 4,800,000 to sewage systems, which the company has failed to do. While the company says it currently collects 62 percent of its customers’ sewage—just shy of its commitment of 64 percent—the actual percentage of sewage that it treats is only 5 percent. The rest is dumped untreated directly into the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver). The new contract allows the company to delay construction of the crucial Berazategui wastewater treatment plant as well as a fourth sewer main. It also eliminates the requirement that rate increases be tied to investments and waives $10 million in fines that were imposed for alleged contract violations. Additionally, the contract pegs rate increases to fluctuations in the US inflation rate, calculated in pesos. [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Carlos Menem, Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

In the midst of a massive financial collapse, the private water company Aguas Argentinas—struggling to pay its external debts—insists that Argentina either implement a fixed peso-dollar exchange rate for its debt payments or allow it to increase water rates by 42 percent. When the Argentine government refuses, Aguas Argentinas threatens to take the country to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. The ICSID is part of the World Bank, which owns a five percent stake in the company (see (Early 1994)). Argentina attempts to block Aguas Argentinas from going to the ICSID, but France, where the consortium is based, acts to permit it. [Santoro, 2/6/2003; Public Citizen, 6/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas, International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes

Category Tags: Argentina

The Argentine government approves Aguas Argentinas’s request for another hike in water rates (see also (Early 1994) and May 1998). This time the rates increase by 9.1 percent. In exchange, the company says it will expedite its plan to spend $1.1 billion expanding services to Buenos Aires’ poorer neighborhoods. [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Aguas Argentinas

Category Tags: Argentina

A 2003 report by the Center for Public Integrity finds that 10 years after the privatization of Buenos Aires’ water and sewer services (see April 28, 1993), poor neighborhoods still lack access to safe drinking water. The report cites the example of the Parravicino household, which lives in one of the poorest areas of Buenos Aires. “Mario Parravicino, who lives with his family in the dusty city of La Matanza, gets up each morning praying silently that it won’t rain. ‘When it rains it often floods and the sewage gets into everything,’ says the 60-year-old factory worker. ‘You can’t use the toilet because it backs up. It’s disgusting.’ La Matanza is among the poorest districts in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, a maze of tiny cinder-block homes wedged together along dirt roads. There are no sewers, so the rains flood its houses and septic tanks, which often overflow into wells. Boiling is the only form of water treatment, and not everyone can afford the gas to boil the water. Nitrate levels, caused by sewage contamination, are dangerously high and waterborne diseases common. In Argentina, intestinal infestations cause 20 percent of infant deaths. Across town in Laferrere, the Rusman family has the same problem. Their well is only two meters from the septic tank, and the water is often suspiciously murky after a rainfall. ‘Whenever we can we boil it before drinking,’ Alejandra Rusman explained. ‘But we don’t often have money to pay for gas.’ The local church provides drinking water to those who can’t pay for gas, but the Rusmans don’t wish to be beggars. Alejandra worries constantly about her two sons Pablo and Martin, aged 7 and 4. ‘This situation is dangerous because we forget and the boys drink this cloudy water and it makes them sick,’ she said.” The reports also notes, “A country that only 10 years earlier had Latin America’s highest standard of living was now on a level with Jamaica; half of Argentina’s 37 million people lived below the poverty level.” [Santoro, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Mario Parravicino, Alejandra Rusman, Center for Public Integrity

Category Tags: Argentina

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