The neighbors of Alcazar de San Juan have locked themselves inside the city council for 72 hours to demand a binding referendum on water privatization, a proposal backed by 11,000 signatures from a town of 32,000 inhabitants. Despite the outcry, the city council rejected the proposal and tentatively awarded Aguas de Alcázar (the municipal service of water) to Aqualia, a company belonging to the group FCC (Fomento de Construcciones y Contractors) for 25 years.
Despite the decision of the council, which was in favor of privatization due to the casting vote of the mayor (he cast the deciding vote amongst 10 votes against and 10 in favour), the population of Alcazar kept demonstrating on Friday afternoon. More than 5,000 people went through the streets shouting "Yes we can", "If you also take a shower, join the fight", "Water is not for sale, water fights back" or "Ortega resignation". They arrived at the headquarters of Aqualia and read an impromptu statement in which they said that 'the most important thing in this process are not the answers we receive, but the questions we ask" and explained that the mobilization would continue.
According to the words of Juan Garrido, a member of the Platform 'Aguas de Alcazar', this mobilization comes after seven months of work and after having undertaken numerous explanatory actions of the privatization process in the town. Among them there was the creation of a newspaper called 'Water for all' in order to disclose the contents that were being developed and facing the failure of the mainstream press. In the recent past, five demonstrations on Fridays precede the lockdown inside the city council that, according to Garrido, have shown the 'incompetence' of the Government to manage it. Proof of this was the police violence that the population received Tuesday afternoon while demonstrating peacefully.
"This mobilization has served to arouse the people. And it has been a boost for us", says Garrido, adding that they have received much popular support and that young people, who hitherto had not been mobilized have now taken to the streets. "It may be", as Garrido says, "that the desire to privatize the municipal water has struck a chord with people."
Therefore, the mobilization will continue. "We are studying new social, political actions and will also continue with the legal fight', says Garrido. A precautionary suspension of the privatization process was requested from the Platform 'Aguas de Alcázar', which was not accepted for consideration. However, there are still two litigious administrative resources to be resolved. One was brought by the PSOE in relation to the Pliego de Licitación (Tender) and another brought by the Platform itself in relation to the many irregularities found in the project report. "The report was developed by a private technician hired by the city council itself, when there are public technicians who could have done it. It is also a glaring fact that a company is put up for sale without having an assessment ever being made."
In this sense, the city council justifies the privatization because it would help pay off the alleged 8 million debt of the city council, but as Garrido points out, "Aqualia would only pay 1,100,000 of that debt and would lend 6 million, so the debt would not only remain unsettled but it would increase with the consequent interest payments. It's a gift to Aqualia."
Furthermore, the vote could be invalidated. Article 47.2 of the Law 7/85 says that "the granting of goods or services for more than five years, provided that the amount exceeds 20 percent of the regular budget resources, require half plus one of the city councillors." And the awarding of Aguas de Alcázar is for 25 years and exceeds 20% of its resources. This has already been denounced by the PSOE and is also pending.
Is private management more efficient ?
A study from the University of Granada on the management of the global water cycle in Andalucia concludes that 'contrary to the theses that private management is more efficient than the public one, the results show that the state-owned company is more efficient than the private'.
With regards to the end user, the first consequence of the privatization of water is the increase in rates. Proof of it are the cases of Huelva, where increases of 40.7% were recorded since 2011, increases of 27% in 2013 in Barcelona, increases in rates of 4% in water and IVA (Spanish value added tax) of wastewater treatment and sewage system in Jerez, or in Posada Llanera, Asturias, where Aqualia claimed an increase of 17.1% in the water rate, compared to the corresponding 0.3% in the CPI adopted.
These increases in rates have a particular impact nowadays, when household economies are being drowned mainly due to the lack of work. Thus, according to data provided by the Spanish Association of Public Operators of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEOPAS), 'more than 500,000 cut notifications are processed each year, a 30% increase from four years ago. Of these 500,000, 300,000 (60%) are executed as it was 4 years ago. In this way, citizens are not only deprived of the control of an essential common good as water, but also low income families suffer the violence of the supply cut. From the Public Water Network we call this phenomenon 'Hydrological Poverty'.
Aqualia is the company that will be awarded the contract with Aguas de Alcázar. It has 36.7% market share in Spain and provides its service in more than 850 municipalities, according to its own website. Aqualia, far from being more efficient than public management, is already known for unfair increases in rates and for the poor environmental practices it performs.
Thus, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Ecologistas en Accion recently reported that in the vicinity of the treatment plant "there is a large wastewater lake" whose formation is attributed to the discharges of Aqualia, the franchise holder of the global water cycle services in the city.
In El Puerto de Santa María, Ecologistas en Accion denounced a few months ago that, taking advantage of a downpour, 'the company Aqualia FCC, franchise holder of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP Las Galeras) and maintenance of urban sewage, opened the floodgates of the pumping station of the Avenida de la Bajamar, next to the Club Náutico, pouring large amounts of contaminated water to the Guadalete river'.
It is for these reasons that Candelaria, a population of the Canary Islands where the water service was also privatized, is fighting against the 'unfair agreement contracted at that time with the company Aqualia' in order to 'regain the public service management'.