Last year Madrid voted over future of water supply, over plans to privatize 49 percent of Canal de Isabel II, the public water authority.
Spanish national and local government plans for sweeping privatisations received a blow when campaigners collected more than 160,000 signatures opposing the flotation on the stock exchange of the local water company, El Canal de Isabel II. Volunteers across Madrid urged passersby to vote in an informal referendum.
The regional government of Madrid, like the national government, is in the hands of the right wing Popular Party. Both are dead keen on selling of Spain’s family silver in order to plug a big hole in the public finances caused first by a bank-fuelled housing boom-turned- bust and then by austerity policies in Spain and abroad.
Esperanza Aguirre, head of the regional government of Madrid also wants to flog off the Metro, one of world’s top 10 underground urban train systems. He hopes to make Euros 1.5-1.75 billion from the sale of the water company, which would also allow the new private owners to buy other companies, including banks, and exploit land currently being used for public utility like gardens and parks. Aguirre has called Canal de Isabel II “a safe investment,” because “everybody drinks water,” whatever the economic climate.
But opponents including the unions, United Left party green groups, neighborhood associations and the 15-M (indignados movement), have been raising awareness among the public of the planned sale of the public water company, arguing that ‘water is for everybody and does not belong to anyone’. The results of their referendum in which 167 000 people took part: 99% rejected privatisation.
The organisers said that the referendum, which was organised by installing polling booths in 350 municipals, or local areas, was designed to allow people to take a view on an issue that had ‘not appeared in an electoral programme’ and that the regional government was promoting ‘behind the backs of the citizens.’
Enrique García, from the Popular Assembly of Tetuán, a district in Madrid, pointed out that demands for a debate in the Madrid regional assembly had been rejected by the regional government. He added:
“A few months ago the citizens know nothing of the privatisation of the water company’ but thanks to the successful referendum ‘now the majority of the population was informed.’
“We want to draw attention to an opaque process in which the government refuses to specify the value of the Canal, even in the Assembly”, said Ladislao Martínez, spokesman for the grassroots movement Plataforma contra la privatización del Canal de Isabel II.
“Water belongs to everybody,” said one retired woman who voted against the privatization. To her, the move would just result in fewer jobs and higher consumer fees.
Although it was not binding the referendum had ‘moral and political validity’, campaigners said. They are now demanding the regional government hold an official referendum that would force the Madrid administration to win popular support for its plans, or drop them.
Official data from the Social Consultation for Water is still available in the web www.porelagua.es
The promoters (of the protest referendum) also want to gather 500,000 signatures required to submit a Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) to the Assembly of Madrid requiring a discussion and vote on the possible privatization in the regional parliament.
Plataforma contra la privatización del Canal de Isabel II
The privatisation of the Canal is halted due to:
- A lack of private buyers
- Citizen mobilisations
- Legal uncertainty which could lead to the use of administrative complaints and complaints of unconstitutionality
- Requirements from potential buyers
However, the creation of the company means a retreat from the current business model and a step towards privatization.
Several aspects of the contract-programme:
- The contract-programme will last 50 years.
- The functions and competencies of the Canal Gestión SA as well as its revenues are defined in the contract-programme but are not known.
- The annual tariff increase rates will follow the index of consumer prices and the company must reach a financial balance.
Spectacular increase in water bills in 2012
The Madrid government actions through Ordinance 2304/2011 of 30 December 2011, has led to increases of between 10 and 20%, without justification by introducing a new formula that affects the fixed service and supply distribution.
This decision runs counter to a report by the Economic and Social Council, which recommended in December 2011 to maintain the old formula.
The increase is part of the efforts being made to facilitate the sale of the Canal to private investors, increasing revenues and enabling higher profits.