Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Water, A Human Right or an IMF cash cow

Well, water metering and charges are coming - another soft stealth tax.
If Ireland is famous for anything other than bankruptcy, it's soft rain.

What I mean by a soft tax is that it is something that cannot be avoided. We need certain things to survive; they are basic, food, water and shelter. Those are the fundamentals of life, and are not easy to move or source elsewhere.

Air can be covered by a carbon tax, shelter can be covered by a property tax, and water can be covered by metering.

The main aim of metering is of course to raise cash and in my opinion to eventually privatize in order to raise money in the short term to bail out the banks, and to avoid long term issues like pensions and of course, taking responsibility for failings in the system.

In Ireland, the main thing it seems to me is the abrogation of responsibility, where failure can be covered up by bureaucracy and being as obtuse as possible, and it seems impossible to hold people to account for failure in public services and banking.

So, why charge for water - to get money that will be used to service IMF loans that were taken to bail out the banks. I doubt very much that any water charge, be it flat rate or metered, will be ring fenced for improved infrastructure or treatment.

Let’s briefly look at one part of Ireland first – Galway where €21.5 million has been available since 2002 for dealing with the cryptosporidium issue, yet there still are major problems with water supply in one of Ireland’s major residential areas and a premier tourist destination.

It’s now 2011 and still according to the Connacht Tribune there is still ‘Inadequate treatment’ of drinking water for 44,000 people.
Despite the €21m in 2002 and an additional €18.4 million this year from the EPA a total of 32 water sources in Galway are “at risk” of contamination – almost half of these having “inadequate treatment” for the cryptosporidium bug.

This leads to the situation where one part of the government (the EPA) using public funds to prosecute another government agency (Galway CoCo) whose legal fees and fines will be paid for from the public purse!!

With all that money provided, one would think that Galway CoCo would sort things out.
But because of the current situation one can only say the Council is ill equipped to run public water systems efficiently.

Typically for Ireland, no one in Galway CoCo has been held responsible, no questions have been asked, and the county manager with all the other people who should be looking after this are still in place.

With the IMF and World Bank if water services are sold off there is a precedent. It is not the first time that aid or assistance has been made conditional to the privatization - or rather the profitisation - of a substance as essential as water. 

The Bolivian Government turned to the World Bank for help against an economic meltdown – much like us bailing out the banks. The World Bank declared it would not "renew" a $ 25 million to Bolivia unless it privatized its water services.

It seems the World Bank believed that "poor governments are often too plagued by local corruption and too ill equipped to run public water systems efficiently.[and that the use of private corporations] opens the door to needed investment and skilled management"

A 1999 Public Expenditure Review, the World Bank stated that “no subsidies should be given to ameliorate the increase in water tariffs” in Bolivia, i.e. no breaks for elderly or the poor.

Bolivia privatized its water services, giving control to a subsidiary of a multinational.
The multinational demanded, and won, a provision guaranteeing the company an average 16% annual return on its investment, leaving Bolivia's poor to bear all the financial risk – much like our public services are suffering cuts and a risk of privatisation to service the interest on the IMF/EU loans.

To ensure the legality of the privatization law 2029 was passed, which verified the contract and gave a virtual monopoly over ALL water resources.

This included water used for irrigation by peasant farmers, and community-based resources that had previously been independent of regulation and state run water supply.
The law was seen as the sale of water resources that had never really been a part of public service system in the first place, much like our community water systems.

This also included rainwater harvesting – but more about that later.

The corporation could not only install meters and begin charging at independently built communal water systems, but it could also charge residents for the installation of those meters.
This has - in an obtuse way - already happened in Ireland, our taxes are paying for the meter installation program – so a publicly funded metering system is already in place adding value to the product offered if, or rather when, the system is sold to investors.

Between January 1999 and April 2000 parts of Bolivia were placed under martial law following protests against public water systems being sold off to foreign investors and the sheer scale of cost increase.
This needs to be put into context. Bolivian families earning a wage of less than $100 per month were charged $20 for water - an increase at times of 300% - and threatened with having the water shut off.

When thousands tried to march in peaceful protest, then President Banzer - who ruled Bolivia as a dictator from 1971-78 - had police and army hammer protesters.
Those who opposed the water privatization scheme had their homes ransacked and some were flown off to a remote rainforest jail in an effort to silence them.
175 people were injured, two youths blinded and 17-year-old Victor Hugo Daza was shot thorough the face and killed: The ultimate penalty for challenging multinational corporate control of local water supplies

The company who had taken over the water system was a subsidiary of US based Bechtel. Bechtel is a global giant, posting more than $12.6 billion in revenue in 1998 - $2.4 billion on Latin American projects alone

Bechtel sought to pin the blame elsewhere released a statement claiming that "a number of other water, social and political issues are the root causes of this civil unrest."
Moving to shift the blame, a Bolivian government spokesman told reporters the "subversive" protest was "absolutely politically financed by narcotraffickers."

Such labeling is done much in the same way that Shell to Sea protestors in Ireland have been labeled as provo sympathizers by parts of the media.

The But the uprising had nothing to do with drugs: It was all about water, the coalition against the water charges was in fact led by a union representing minimum wage factory workers and including peasant farmers, environmentalists and youth.
The contract made with Bolivia's government was bad from the very beginning, a virtual guarantee that thousands of poor families would be hit with water rates they could not afford - as we are hit with cuts in Ireland.
Bechtel now complains bitterly about that contract, but the fact remains that they negotiated it, signed it and implemented it.

Bechtel workers removed the water company computers and financial and personnel records. Bechtel administrators left behind emptied bank accounts and more than $150,000 in unpaid bills. On top of all this suffering and damage, Bechtel now has the audacity to demand a compensation payment of $12 million from Bolivia.

You might think that a charge, tariff or license to collect rain water is nuts, but its not just in Bolivia that attempts have been made for a such a charge.

Elected public servants in the Washington State Legislature introduced a bill that will require an individual to obtain a permit to collect rainwater on their own property for their own use.

In Ghana someone as supposedly caring as the UK’s Claire Short's true commitment - to a globalised economy run by powerful, mostly western capital - is exemplified by her "development" enterprise in Ghana.
Her department told the Ghanaian government that it would get aid money only if it effectively privatizes the water supply, allowing British and other multinational corporations to make a killing.
Making a killing can be taken literally in Ghana, where more than half the people lack a regular, safe water supply and children die from water-borne diseases. Since a "private-public partnership" was announced, water bills for the poor have begun to rise sharply in order to make the water industry "competitive" so that it can be sold off. The Christian Council of Ghana says that "to privatize water is like handing down death sentences to the urban and rural poor in Ghana, because they cannot afford to pay".

Again in the US Colorado water law holds that every raindrop that falls on the state is already claimed by a water-rights holder.

It is claimed that capturing rainwater could hurt stream flows and thus is akin to stealing.

You see, once water collection and distribution is commercialized, it becomes the intellectual property of the water distributor.

In the UK we have even seen an attempt at a derivitive of a rainwater collection charge - privatised utilities services billed churches and charities like the Scouts for draining away rainwater that fell on their roofs. Protests by the Church and the Scouts Association, which said hundreds of its groups are having to choose whether they organise youth activities or pay their water bills.

Essentially, if the Politicians are pushed, whether you were to collect rainwater or not - you could end up paying companies with a profit motive for - rainfall !!!

In Ireland we have all the right elements, corrupt or inefficient public officials, inept public services, a financial crisis caused by an elite that is used as leverage to create monetary advantage for multinational corporations and a political/media caste who don’t give a damn.

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