Romeu Zema’s (Novo) attempts to privatize the Minas Gerais Sanitation Company (Copasa) raise concerns about the impacts on small municipalities and rural areas of the state.
In addition to having profited almost R$250 million in the first quarter of this year, as it is public, Copasa is committed to bringing water and sanitation to the homes of miners. This is expressed in the cross-subsidization implemented by the company. In practice, Copasa uses resources from municipalities that generate profits to invest in regions that do not, which are often small cities with large rural areas.
Currently, Copasa distributes and treats water in 75% of the state’s municipalities and develops a series of initiatives that contribute to the development of the regions where it operates. This, according to experts, could cease to exist if the company is handed over to the private sector.
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In May this year, for example, the state-owned company announced the “Universaliza Minas” program, which provides approximately R$280 million in sanitation works in more than 330 small municipalities in Minas Gerais, benefiting 220,000 rural residents.
“In addition, Copasa has qualified technical staff to work in these municipalities, which allows for high water quality control”, comments Lucas Tonaco, director of the Union of Workers in the Water Purification and Distribution Industry and in Water Services. Sewage of Minas Gerais (Sindágua-MG).
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In the city of Serra da Saudade in the Midwest of Minas Gerais, which is the smallest municipality in Brazil, with 836 inhabitants, for example, Copasa works to develop public sanitation policies. In Manga, in the North of Minas Gerais, more than a third of the population is covered by Copasa’s social tariff.
Currently, the company provides a register for low-income families to access tariff reduction programs, which can reach a 40% discount on the water bill.
“You can bring sanitation to everyone, in a dignified and accessible way. There is a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) that states that for every R$1 you invest in sanitation, you save R$9 in health”, highlights the director of Sindágua-MG.
Lucas Tonaco assesses that, in the case of private companies, all these possibilities are put at risk. He also draws attention to the fact that municipalities that already have private sanitation services live with precarious conditions and high tariffs.
“This is the case of Ouro Preto, with Saneouro, which became very precarious, and the bills tripled in value. In Pará de Minas, water quality fell and prices increased. With Copasa being state-owned, mayors can charge, they can interfere, when it is not working. If the company is private, how will it charge? Private companies often don’t even have headquarters in these municipalities”, he criticizes.
Repudiation of the sale of the company
In July this year, the Municipal Council of Rio Piracicaba sent a letter to the Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais (ALMG) repudiating the privatization proposals of Copasa and Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais (Cemig). The municipality has only 14,631 residents and would be one of those affected by the sale of the company and the end of the cross-subsidization.
Copasa also has other social initiatives, such as the Chuá Project, which raises public school students’ awareness about sanitation, Pró-mananciais, which invests in the socio-environmental preservation of springs, and the actions of the Copasa enterprise sector, which advises city halls on construction of works.
Source: BdF Minas Gerais
Editing: Larissa Costa