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Renegotiation of CA not enough without renouncing privatization –WPN

by Water for the People Network

The Water for the People Network (WPN) said that government should renounce water privatization and assert water as a human right whose provision should be under effective public control. This is the most important basis for terminating the concession agreements (CA) between the State and private water firms. The vital public utility should be returned to the public sector, WPN said, and not remain in the hands of profit-seeking water oligarchs.

President Duterte recently ordered the CAs between government and water firms Maynilad Water Systems Inc. and Manila Water Company to be renegotiated. Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that certain provisions of the water CAs are onerous and disadvantageous to both government and consumers. The DOJ began reviewing the CAs upon the instruction of President Duterte at the height of the water crisis during the first quarter of this year.

The onerous stipulations recorded by the DOJ include prohibition against State interference in rate-setting, indemnification for revenue losses due to this interference, and irregular extension of contracts by 15 years. These are issues that have been raised by water rights advocates, WPN said, in the more than two decades since water in Metro Manila was privatized.

“The WPN has long and repeatedly called for the scrapping of the CAs. The CAs are the very epitome of water privatization, which has failed to deliver promised cheaper, cleaner, and more secure water services,” WPN spokesperson Prof. Reggie Vallejos said. Water utilities have to deliver water as a human right, he stressed, and mere renegotiation of the CAs will not truly ensure public interest objectives over private profits.

“The government has not yet revealed its points for renegotiation but we doubt that these will be enough to uphold the public welfare if they are still within the failed water privatization framework and biased towards profitability for water oligarchs,” Vallejos said.

WPN recalled that water privatization has only resulted in more expensive water, with rates increasing seven-fold for Maynilad and ten-fold for Manila Water from the start of the concession in 1997 to the third quarter of 2019. The CA-directed rate rebasing every five years since privatization allowed firms to make profits by charging consumers increasing tariffs including, among others, for projects that fail to push through. WPN added that the CA gives government a key role in rate-setting (judging whether enumerated expenses were prudent and just in the interest of consumers), but nonetheless allows the companies to sue the State should its regulation affect their profit-making.

The water firms also face Supreme Court-imposed penalties for violating the Clean Water Act, with poor sewerage services performance versus targets as of 2018. Meanwhile, water service interruptions have been hounding Manila Water and Maynilad consumers since March 2019.

These problems bring us back to 1997, WPN said, when the Ramos administration invoked a national water crisis and handed over water sourcing, processing and distribution to the private sector. The huge socially-sensitive water utility was handed over to the Ayalas and Lopezes. The biggest water privatization until then was perfectly in tune with the Ramos government’s grand promotion of globalization policies including deregulating the oil industry and liberalizing Philippine agriculture, said the group.

Public sector water operations should be re-established in Metro Manila and the rest of the country as soon as possible, said Vallejos. “These should be returned to the public sector to ensure that profit-seeking does not get in the way of delivering cheap, clean, and secure water services to the public,” he said.

WPN cited the growing global trend of water remunicipalization reversing water privatization. This has already happened in over 231 cities in some 37 countries around the world for instance in Spain, Germany, Argentina, and even in France, home to water multinationals. The poor experience with water privatization is making governments choose public water sourcing and distribution over private control, the group said.

Government’s continued implementation of water privatization is seeing additional oligarchs taking over public control of water, said WPN. Specifically, these are big business interests close to Duterte, for instance, Manny Villar and Dennis Uy who are also in the water business through Prime Water Infrastructure Corp. and Udenna Water and Integrated Services, respectively. Prime Water has been striking joint venture agreements with local water districts in areas nationwide but undermining water services according to a Commission on Audit report, WPN observed.

Simply renegotiating the CAs to let more oligarchs keep profiting from the water business will not remove the ill effects of privatization on the public and may even make it worse, WPN said. Government must bravely decide to take control of the vital public utility and run it as a service rather than for profit, the group said. #

‘NAGAUGTAS AKO’: Approval of BACIWA-Prime TOR ‘hurried,’ ‘without proper study’ – GM

Visayas Today

The decision to approve a “certificate of successful negotiation” for ongoing talks between the Bacolod City Water District and Prime Water Infrastructure Corp. for a controversial 25-year joint venture agreement was “hurried” and done “without proper study,” the general manager of the water utility said.

“Naga-ugtas ako (I am exasperated),” Juliana Carbon declared in an interview.

Carbon stressed that, while she saw nothing inherently wrong in allowing private sector participation in improving BACIWA’ s services and systems, the local utility has, given the needed funding and direction, the capacity to accomplish the task.

A joint venture, she said, “is only one of the solutions and it is not the best; there are many other options.”

From daily noontime rallies staged by the BACIWA Employees Union, opposition to the proposed deal, which many consider “privatization,” has grown steadily, joined by various sectoral organizations. As of this week, four barangay councils – those of Sum-ag, Pahanocoy, Tangub and Barangay 21 – have passed resolutions against the joint venture, with others expected to follow suit.

The joint venture, says the BEU and others against the joint venture, would turn water from a natural resource to a profit-generating commodity, to the detriment of consumers. For starters, the union says, a 12 percent Value Added Tax will be automatically tacked onto water bills once the deal is closed.

The BEU, like Carbon, has pointed to other options, most of which, it says, can be carried out by BACIWA itself – for example, entering into agreements to purchase abundant surface water from neighboring water districts like those of Murcia, Bago or Talisay.

While Carbon acknowledged that BACIWA does not have the funds for expansion, she pointed out that the Development Bank of the Philippines “has written us, offering us standby credit of P3 billion.” The Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry has urged BACIWA to take advantage of this.

Yet, in the end, “the board makes policy and it is their decision to go into the (joint venture agreement) as head of the procuring entity” even as she stressed that the governing body created the Joint Venture Selection Committee to study and evaluate (offers) if these are for the good of BACIWA, the people and the workers.”

Carbon said she herself has “practically no role.”

But even if a joint venture were really necessary, Carbon said, the one being negotiated with Prime Water is fraught with problems, not only for BACIWA but, more important, its employees and its consumers.

In fact, Carbon said that, in comments she was asked to make on the negotiation report following the Joint Venture Selection Committee’s last meeting on July 4, she concluded that “the negotiations are not over yet and in fact failed in some aspects.”

Despite these findings, the board approved the issuance of the certificate of successful negotiation.

While admitting she had yet to receive a copy of the certificate, “I understand that there were refinements based on some of my comments.”
However, she noted that these changes were “most likely done by the board” outside the regular JVSC meeting and should, therefore, be subject to a board decision.

The issue of BACIWA’s earnings from the joint venture readily stood out as a major problem.

Carbon said BACIWA, which she stressed “has never been losing,” had asked Prime Water for P80 million a year, “which is our current average net income.”

“But Prime would agree to only P35 million a year from year 1 to 5, and P36 million a year from year 6-10,” she said. “This includes money for wages.”

Under this arrangement, BACIWA will hardly earn anything, Carbon said, something the Commission on Audit would surely question.

Another major flaw Carbon sees is the lack of detail in many of the proposed agreement’s provisions which, she says, could make the deal grossly disadvantageous to the government.

“If they say they will build a building for BACIWA, the dimensions – the floor area, the number of stories – should be specified” otherwise, Prime Water could build a small building and claim it as compliance with its commitments, she explained.

“If you enter into a partnership, you have to lay down all your reasonable goals and then convince the partner to agree and comply with these. It cannot be only what the partner wants. We cannot leave this to Prime Water to decide,” Carbon stressed.

She pointed out that in the terms of reference, Prime Water committed to supply a minimum of 10 psi (pound-force per square inch) during the first year of the joint venture.

“But in the new TOR, this has been moved to the fourth year,” she said.

The BACIWA general manager notes that while Presidential Decree 198, which created local water districts, mandates that water districts acquire, install and facilitate water systems, the joint venture hands over management and operations to Prime Water and “relegates BACIWA to a mere regulating and monitoring unit,” a point critics of the deal raise to argue why it is privatization in all but name.

Carbon also questioned why Prime Water is not obliged to assume BACIWA’s obligations, like the P400-million balance of its original P507-million debt to the DBP.

Although Prime Water will give BACIWA the funds to meet its annual payments, “what if somehow it becomes unable to do so? Since all revenues go to Prime Water, what happens to BACIWA since, in the contract, BACIWA remains the debtor?”

In contrast, she said, Metro Pacific paid off the debt of the Metro Iloilo Water District.

Another snag Carbon saw is Prime Water’s use of BACIWA’s assets, which she said COA has opined “should be considered asset rentals and subjected to a separate agreement.”

“But the negotiation terms provide that Prime Water will pay net usufruct – a legal term meaning to use and enjoy a thing and which is usually free – payments of P25 million a year. This is really still rental,” she said.
But what riled Carbon most are the provisions covering BACIWA’s personnel.

BACIWA executives have given assurances that employees will be “absorbed” under the joint venture, a claim disputed by both the BEU and Carbon since what they say will happen is that the personnel will be transferred from government to private employment. The union says this is evident since their social security coverage will shift from the GSIS to SSS.

“I cannot understand how a mere contract can change the status of employees from public to private,” Carbon wondered.

“Under the agreement, the employees have only two options,” she said. “Be absorbed and become private sector employees, or retire.”

Also, the proposed agreement is silent on the fact that permanent employees have to resign and go through the pre-hiring process all over again, which she said is definitely not absorption.

And even if employees opt for retirement, “there is another problem.”
This has to do with “propriety – some even call it a bribe,” she said.

Carbon was referring to an admittedly generous offer of financial assistance equal to 250 percent of an employee’s current wage.

“But why should Prime Water, a private entity, give BACIWA employees, who are government workers, this incentive and then pass it on to the consumers? Is the employee even allowed to receive this?” she asked.

And then, she added, there is a third question: “What if the employees choose to remain with the district as government employees? Can BACIWA force them to resign or retire?”

Aside from these and other problems in what the BACIWA board has declared a “successful negotiation,” Carbon said “there are so many horror stories of what happened to the districts that partnered with Prime Water.”

“I wonder why the representatives of the water district did not see this and instead signed the certificate of successful negotiation,” she said.

Govt should be transparent, release 9 signed foreign loan agreements — IBON

Research group IBON said the Duterte administration should immediately release to the public all nine foreign loan agreements it has already signed for infrastructure projects, especially for the upcoming Kaliwa Dam project with China.

The group raised concerns of government’s transparency since it has denied IBON’s previous requests for copies of the loan agreements.  

The government has an obligation to disclose these contracts as a matter of public interest and protecting the country’s sovereignty, the group said.

The nine foreign loan agreements signed by the government include the Chico River Pump Irrigation and New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam with China; Pasig-Marikina River Channel Improvement, Cavite Industrial Area Flood Management, Metro Manila Subway, and North-South Railway with Japan; Panguil Bay Bridge; and the new Cebu International Container Port with Korea.

IBON research head Rosario Bella Guzman said that there is lack of transparency of government offices to disclose loan agreements signed by the government. 

IBON wrote a letter to the Department of Finance (DOF) in June 2018 requesting copies of the loan agreement for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project.

The DOF responded that the contract has a confidentiality clause and that the agency is not allowed to disclose details of the contract to any third party.

Loan agreements should be disclosed since the projects are public infrastructure which are supposed to be serving public interest, said Guzman.

The Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, with the provisions that could be disadvantageous to the country, may become the gold standard of other loan agreements, Guzman added.

Guzman said that the contracts for other Chinese loans such as the one for the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project would follow the template of onerous provisions found in the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project.

The loan agreement for the Kaliwa Dam which was signed in November 2018 is yet to be made public and IBON has yet to receive a copy of the loan agreement it requested from concerned offices.

Guzman added that the Php12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam will be 85 percent funded by China official development assistance (ODA), in other words, debt that will be paid for by the public in the future.

“China loans are one-sided and impose onerous conditions, which could result in the Philippines virtually giving up its sovereignty,” said Guzman.

IBON previously raised questions on the Chico River Pump Irrigation loan agreement being governed by China laws, and that any arbitration or suit shall be heard at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Court (CIETAC).

“Natural resources, including water, are the subject of these loan agreements, which makes it more problematic if conditions are lopsided in favor of foreign governments, creditors and investors,” Guzman added.

Instead of prioritizing the attraction of one-sided foreign investments and loans for its infrastructure program, the government should put national interest and public welfare first over local and foreign big business interests.

Government can start by subjecting the loan agreements it is signing to public scrutiny and declining those that are not mutually beneficial and do not contribute to the country’s domestic economic development, IBON concluded. #

Suspend rate hike, scrap concession agreement with water firms, govt told

The Water for the People Network (WPN) said that government should not accede to the ruling of an international arbitral court granting the Maynilad Water Systems, Inc. petition to collect its corporate income tax (CIT) from consumers. 

The water rights group agreed that any impending water rate increase amid the ongoing dispute on pass-on CIT should be deferred.

The group likewise urged the scrapping of the concession agreement (CA), which it said allows onerous grounds for price hikes.

The Singaporean Supreme Court finalized an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration decision that Maynilad may recover its CIT through pass-on charges.

Maynilad has demanded that the Philippine government pay Php3.4 billion in indemnification for non-recovery of its CIT for the period March 11, 2015 to August 31, 2016.

This is after the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) refused to honor an arbitral decision favoring Maynilad while that for Manila Water remained pending.

As per CA with the Philippine government, both Maynilad and Manila Water took to international arbitration in 2013 to contest the RO’s rejection of their petitioned rate increases for the rate rebasing period of 2013-2018.

The firms’ petitions included CIT recovery and other expenses unrelated to the delivery of water services.

For the period of 2018-2022, the MWSS Board has already approved the RO’s rate rebased tariffs, which again reportedly disallows CIT recovery. The MWSS-RO announced a staggered Php5.73 per cubic meter (cu. m.) rate increase for Maynilad and Php6.22/cu. m. for Manila Water.

These are lower than the firms’ petitioned rates, wich for Maynilad still included the CIT.

The WPN urged the MWSS Board in a letter to uphold the decision to prohibit CIT recovery because it is unjust to consumers.

“In the first place, it is very wrong to pass on the burden of paying the CIT to consumers,” said the group.

The concessionaires are technically public utilities providing a very basic need such as water, said WPN. Aside from mandating the periodic alteration of basic charges through rate rebasing, the CA ensures the concessionaires’ steady flow of revenue and profit-making with other increases based on inflation, an environmental charge, and value added tax, noted the group.

WPN supports the MWSS-RO plan to suspend the impending rate hike this year should Maynilad insist on collecting indemnification from the government.

“The amount being demanded by Maynilad alone could reach Php40 billion, tantamount to an increase of about Php5.00/cu. m. on current average tariffs. Any rate hike today is also insensitive due to the soaring prices of goods and services,” said the group.

Inflation has risen to 6.7 percent in September from 6.4 percent in August.

Aside from pushing for the prohibition of the CIT and rate hike suspension, WPN stressed that strategically, government should review and repeal the CA altogether.

 

“It is the basis of the enrichment of private water firms at the expense of consumers. Government should instead ensure control over water resources to have these safe, accessible and affordable for the public,” WPN said. #

Groups protest water rate hike

Members of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and Water System Employees Response (WATER) staged a picket protest outside the office of Metro-Manila Sewerage System (MWSS) in Balara, Quezon City to denounce the latest water rate hike by Maynilad and Manila Water Thursday, October 4.

According to Ferdinand Gaite, National President of COURAGE, Maynilad will increase its rates by approximately P5.73 per cubic meter while Manila Water will impose a P6.22-P6.55 per cubic meter hike in the next five years.

Customers of Manila Water (East zone concessionaire) will pay an additional P1.46 per cubic meter starting October 16 while Maynilad (West zone concessionaire) started a P0.90 per cubic meter increase last October 1.

Gaite also blames the rampant high prices of goods and services because of TRAIN Law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) that added burdens to the water customers.

Meanwhile Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate will file a resolution seeking the lower house to fast track the probe to stop water hike by legislating and forwarding measures to protect consumers.

He cited the anomalies happen in 2012 where giant water firms collected in advance for future projects.

This included the P45 billion Laiban project and P5.4 billion Angat Dam Irrigation project.

Both projects were cancelled in 2010 but P6 billion worth of collections were already made in 2012. # (Video by Dave Galman / Report by Joseph Cuevas)

Rate hike for Maynilad customers approved: Looming increase in water rates to burden consumers more

Amid soaring prices, the MWSS Board of Trustees has given the nod to higher water rates for Maynilad Water Systems Inc.

This and impending Manila Water Company, Inc. rate increases are bound to burden consumers anew, said water rights group Water for the People Network (WPN).

WPN urged the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System-Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) to suspend the hike so as not to aggravate the difficulty of millions of low-income families in spending for their basic needs.

Approved by the MWSS Board is a Php5.73/cubic meter (cu. m.) hike for Maynilad as proposed by the MWSS-RO.

Meanwhile, the proposed increase for  Manila Water rates is Php6.26-Php6.55/cu. m.), which is set for deliberation within the month.

These figures are the supposed results of the rate rebasing process.

Every five years, government determines new water rates according to its review of the water companies’ petitioned rates vis a vis their past and projected expenses throughout the concession period.

Purportedly in consideration of consumers’ inflation woes, the MWSS-RO proposed for the increases to be collected in tranches, starting in October.

Maynilad’s approved rate hike schedule begins at a weighted average of Php0.90/ cu. m.

Manila Water’s rate hike begins at a weighted average of Php1.50.

WPN however said that regardless of the scheduled tranches, any addition to current expenses further constricts spending for poor households.

This includes millions of families whose incomes already fall way below the Php995 Family Living Wage (FLW) for a family of five. The daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region (NCR) totals Php512.

MWSS-RO computes that this October, the bills of households covered by Maynilad will increase by a net amount of Php6.53 for households consuming average 15 cu. m. per month and a net amount of Php13.68 for households consuming average 25 cu. m. per month.

For Manila Water customers consuming the same average volumes of water, rates increase by a net amount of Php9.68 and Php20.30, respectively.

Aside from the basic charge, however, WPN noted that the all-in tariff includes other fees such as the foreign currency differential adjustment (FCDA), environmental charge, and the value-added tax (VAT).

All-in tariffs are already at Php48.03/cu. m. for Maynilad and Php36.40/cu. m. for Manila Water as of July 2018.

The MWSS-RO claimed that Maynilad’s approved rate hike is much lower than the company’s Php11.00 petitioned increase, as is the RO’s recommended increase for Manila Water compared to the latter’s Php8.30 proposed hike.

This supposedly reflects the MWSS’ prohibition of the inclusion of the water firms’ corporate income tax and expenses unrelated to water services such as donations and recreation.

WPN however said that the agency’s refusal to publicly show the documents proving this–prior to the approval of the MWSS Board–underscores that the rate rebasing process lacks transparency and authentic public consultation.

During the 2013 rate rebasing process, public clamor versus the discovered inclusion of such items in water bills led to the MWSS-RO’s rejection of the water concessionaires’ petitioned rates.

Thus, per their concession agreement (CA) with the government, Maynilad and Manila Water subsequently appealed to international arbitration courts to demand compensation for lost revenues.

The courts have ruled twice in favor of Maynilad. Manila Water, which the international courts have turned down, has a pending case.

Consumers face more tariff increases in the future, WPN said, because of government’s privatization of water despite its being a public utility.

The group challenged the MWSS-RO to spare consumers of additional fees by stopping the hike.

WPN also stressed the urgency of scrapping the CA, reversing water privatization and instituting strong government regulation over all public utilities. #

Group to MWSS: Show us the numbers

The Water for the People Network (WPN) expressed dismay that the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System – Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) would not readily reveal the numbers involving water companies’ petitions for tariff increases in public consultations that the MWSS-RO itself convened this week.

The group said that by doing so, the government agency effectively hindered the consumers’ right to know.

Instead of genuinely consulting the people, it seemed to be conditioning the public to blindly accept the impending water rate hikes based on the petitions of the Manila Water Company (Manila Water) and Maynilad Water Services Inc. (Maynilad), said the group.

The WPN is composed of groups and individuals promoting people’s control over water services and resources.

A concession agreement (CA) between government and water concessionaires warrants the rate rebasing process every five years.

The process pertains to the determination of new tariffs based on the Manila Water and Maynilad’s past and future expenses, as well as a rate of return that will allow the firms to recover their investments.

The MWSS-RO has conducted public consultations before and during the past rate rebasing periods purportedly to grasp the public pulse with regard to the implementation of new tariffs.

The private companies’ petitions have historically been approved, resulting in water rates increasing manyfold through the years, except during the 2013 rate rebasing period.

In September 2013, the MWSS prohibited Maynilad and Manila Water to collect their corporate income taxes and company incentives such as recreation and travel expenses through pass-on charges.

The rate rebasing results reflected amounts lower than both companies’ petitioned rates.

Teddy Casiño, WPN spokesperson, said, “Show us the numbers. If water regulators truly prioritize public interest and want consumers involved in the rate rebasing process, they should make information in Maynilad and Manila Water’s petitions readily available to the public. Otherwise, these public consultations are a PR gimmick.”

During this period’s rate rebasing public consultations, water regulators and the consultants they hired to review water concessionaries’ proposals were reluctant to share pertinent details such as the rate increases requested and basis for the rates such as company earnings, expenditures, and future expenses.

They were also hesitant to answer if questionable charges prohibited in the 2013 rate rebasing process were also included.

WPN said that without vital rate rebasing information from the MWSS-RO, water consumers will be left in the dark and made vulnerable to the water companies’ onerous fees.

The group urged water regulators to uphold their mandate to protect public interest and ensure that Maynilad and Manila Water will not pass on unwarranted expenses to already burdened water consumers. #

Stop water rates hikes until onerous fees resolved – WPN

Advocacy group Water for the People Network (WPN) is appealing to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System – Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) to halt the ongoing rate rebasing process that is expected to raise water rates in Metro Manila and its environs, saying the basis for determining future water rates remains unresolved.

Concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water continue to contest the MWSS-RO’s 2013 decision to prohibit water companies from passing on their corporate income tax and other questionable expenses to consumers.

Both companies took to international arbitration to protest government’s denial of their petitioned rate hikes, with Maynilad demanding government to pay Php72 billion in lost revenues and Manila Water demanding Php10 billion. Both cases are still pending in the courts.

WPN said that pending resolution of both controversies, any rate rebasing scheme would be conjectural and would burden the public with unjust and unnecessary increases in the midst of soaring prices.

“With continued lack of transparency in the rate rebasing process and petitions, water companies could make another attempt to pass on questionable charges to consumers through their water bills,” said former party list representative Teddy Casiño, a convenor of the WPN.

For the 2018-2022 rate rebasing period, Maynilad is seeking an estimated Php12 per cubic meter increase, while Manila Water is seeking and Php8 per cubic meter increase.

Rate rebasing pertains to the periodic computation of water rates based on government’s review of the concessionaires’ petitioned new tariffs.

The latter supposedly covers the companies’ past and projected expenses and a guaranteed rate of return.

However, due to water consumers and advocates’ clamor during the rate rebasing process in 2013, previous water regulators disallowed corporate income tax and other expenses unrelated to the delivery of water from being computed into the water bill.

Casiño said that since 1997 when water utilities were privatized, basic or average water tariffs have soared by as much as 596 percent under Maynilad and 970 percent under Manila Water, contrary to the promise of affordability.

Studies also showed urban poor families end up shelling out thousands of pesos beyond their means for either fetched water from the community pump or sub-meter water access in the absence of direct water connections.

“WPN hopes that the government will look upon the rate rebasing petitions with public interest foremost in mind,” Casiño said. He added that the network will guard against the inclusion in the bill of the Php82-billion uncollected funds which both private companies have pleaded international arbitration courts to demand from the government.

According to Casiño, government’s accession to the companies’ demands would certainly entail higher user fees. “This will double the burden on poor Filipinos who are already struggling with price hikes due to the new taxes,” he said.

Casiño challenged the government to not allow companies to impose onerous fees for profit. # (ibon.org)

On Consumer Welfare Month: 20 years of MWSS privatization, 20 years of violating the people’s right to water

By Water for the People NetworkThe 20th anniversary of the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in August was considered a milestone by privatization proponents. The MWSS has often been used to showcase the supposed benefits of turning over water supply services to private corporations. But the start of government-declared Consumer Welfare Month is an opportune time to note that two decades of MWSS privatization has harmed the interests of the consumers and the general public. While ensuring huge profits for Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc., it has violated the people’s right to water, the various ways by which are listed below:

  1. MWSS privatization has resulted in soaring water rates as private concessionaires rake in massive corporate profits

Between August 1997 and August 2017, the basic tariff of Manila Water has soared by 969 percent. The basic tariff of Maynilad, meanwhile, has ballooned by 596 percent. The all-in tariff, which counts the basic tariff plus add-on charges, for Manila Water has increased by 762% during the same period. For Maynilad, it has jumped by 548 percent.

This translated to enormous profits with a combined accumulated income of Php94.5 billion from 2000 to 2015. Such soaring rates and massive profits for Manila Water and Maynilad were made possible by the concession agreements (CA) they signed with MWSS. Tariffs reflected the impact of inflation, adjustments in the foreign exchange rate, and the concessionaires’ petitioned basic charge which would allow them to supposedly implement their business plan and achieve a guaranteed rate of return in the succeeding five years.

Privatization guaranteed the profits of Manila Water and Maynilad not only by allowing them to pass on all the risks of running a business to the consumers. Privatization also legitimized the collection from the consumers of onerous and questionable charges by MWSS concessionaires.

During the last rebasing in 2013, it was exposed that Manila Water and Maynilad had been including questionable items in their application for new rates. As in previous rebasing exercises (2002 and 2007), they passed on to clueless customers the costs of their corporate income tax (CIT), unimplemented projects, advertising, donations, and recreation.

  1. MWSS privatization has seriously undermined the power and mandate of government to regulate the private concessionaires to protect public interests and welfare

The last rebasing also exposed a key feature of MWSS privatization which is how the power of the state to regulate businesses to protect public interest is greatly undermined. When the Regulatory Office (RO) prohibited the concessionaires from passing on their CIT and other questionable charges to the consumers, Manila Water and Maynilad promptly challenged the decision through international arbitration. This is a mechanism provided by the CA to settle disputes between the concessionaires and MWSS on the interpretation and implementation of the contracts’ provisions, including on the setting of rates. It is a secretive and undemocratic process that includes only representatives of MWSS and the concessionaires and without any public participation. It is being chaired by an unaccountable foreign third party that also represents big business interests.

Filipino taxpayers now face the possibility of shouldering as much as Php82 billion in additional burden if the concessionaires are able to secure favorable decisions from international arbitration. Already, the arbitration panel that heard Maynilad’s case ordered government to pay Php3.4 billion. These amounts represent the supposed losses of the concessionaires when the RO disallowed the continued collection of the CIT and other questionable charges. As stipulated in the CA, government has committed to pay for these supposed losses through what is called sovereign guarantee.

As early as 1998 or a year into privatization, Manila Water had already sought international arbitration to compel the RO to increase the firm’s rate of return contained in its original bid. Aside from the arbitration mechanism, concessionaires also resort to blatant arm-twisting to force favorable decisions from government. In 2001, the original investors of Maynilad blackmailed government to amend the CA to allow it to increase rates or else it would terminate the contract.

  1. MWSS privatization has further weakened the people’s right to water amid questionable claims by the concessionaires of improved water services

The soaring water rates and onerous charges being imposed by Manila Water and Maynilad have effectively marginalized poor households from enjoying the right to access water for domestic use. Amid depressed wages and chronic unemployment, water services along with other basic daily necessities, have put increasing pressure on ordinary families’ budgets.

While both concessionaires claim almost universal water supply coverage, poor communities in their service areas do not enjoy the same quality of service that well-off customers like richer households and commercial areas have. Instead of individual connections, poor communities have to make do with bulk meter connections. Aside from compromising the safety and quality of water, it is also not unusual that the water supply in these poor communities is not available 24/7.

Based on the latest available data, the number of persons per connection for Manila Water is seven, and nine for Maynilad, indicating the prevalence of bulk connections – mainly among urban poor communities – in the MWSS concession areas. Thus, while the concessionaires claim outstanding performance (which the RO apparently could not even independently verify), the truth is that many households, in particular the poor, are not individually connected to the water supply system, which is supposed to be the standard. The poor also end up paying more as block tariff rates apply on these bulk connections.

Aside from universal and 24/7 supply coverage, the concessionaires also promised to provide improved sewerage coverage, which they substantially failed to do amid limited investments despite skyrocketing water rates. In their original service targets, Maynilad committed to achieve 31% sewerage coverage by 2016 and 52% for Manila Water. As of December 2013 – the latest available data – Manila Water has only achieved 12% and Maynilad, 11 percent.

  1. MWSS privatization has deepened corporate and foreign control over vital infrastructure and key services in the country

From the onset, MWSS privatization has been an agenda of big corporate and foreign interests.  Foreign creditors World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) pushed for the privatization of MWSS, which then owed them some US$800 million in debt. The World Bank’s International Finance Corp. (IFC) served as government consultant in MWSS privatization and designed the concession agreement.

The IFC is now an investor in Manila Water, raking billions of profits from a contract it designed itself. Manila Water is led by Ayala Corporation and United Kingdom (UK)-based United Utilities. Aside from the IFC, other foreign investors include Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Corp. as well as First State Investments of the UK, Singapore-based global fund manager Aberdeen Asset Management plc, and US-based equity mutual fund Smallcap World Fund Inc.

Meanwhile, Maynilad is currently controlled by Manny V. Pangilinan through the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and DMCI Holdings of the Consunji family. MPIC , of course, is backed by  Indonesia’s Salim group. Other foreign interests in Maynilad are MCNK JV Corp., a unit of Japanese giant Marubeni Corp., and Lyonnaise Asia Water Limited, a unit of French firm Suez, one of the world’s largest water companies.

Water privatization is being challenged worldwide – from France where some of the first water privatization took place and where the world’s largest water firms are based – to Jakarta, Indonesia which privatized its water system the same year as Metro Manila and used the same model.

Water privatization must be reversed. There is no way out of the trap of exorbitant water rates and unreliable service for the poor unless the concession agreements with Manila Water and Maynilad are junked and the operation of the water supply system is taken over by a reformed public sector. # (Ibon.org)