Bahiagás is the second largest distributor of natural gas in Brazil. It is configured as a mixed economy company, that is, with participation from the state and private companies, and has seen its name circulate in the news regarding the possibility of being privatized.
The Secretariat of Infrastructure of the State of Bahia (Seinfra) did not confirm the intention of the state of Bahia to sell its share in the company, however, it states that studies on the feasibility of privatization are underway. “The studies are being carried out and are expected to be completed in the first half of December”, stated Seinfra’s communications department via email.
The director of Sindiquímica, Alfredo Santana Santos Júnior, emphasizes that the possibility of privatization is not mere speculation. And he warns of the impacts on the lives of the population if this does, in fact, become reality.
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“The union, together with the workers, led a large movement against the privatization of Bahiagás. We understand that it is not confirmed, but that this possibility arises when the government of the state of Bahia, in the first round of elections last year, published a notice to study the privatization of Bahiagás. This notice was withdrawn less than 24 hours later. However, a week after the second round of the election, this notice was published again under another title, but with the same number and the same body of text”, he explains.
Alfredo states that Consórcio Genial had already signed this contract with Bahia Invest and would be working within Bahiagás, leading the privatization process. Concerned about the scenario, the Union director draws attention to what this means in the lives of workers. “Bahiagás is the largest public distributor of natural gas and is the distributor that is building the largest gas pipeline in Brazil, the Gasoduto Sudoeste, a project that would never be carried out by a private company. Private companies in Brazil never invest in structures, they buy what was built by a public company”, warns Alfredo.
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He highlights that a gas pipeline of this size is essential for the development and construction of equipment, in addition to being a fundamental instrument of sponsorship and support for culture. “Bahiagás is, today, the largest state-owned company in Bahia. It finances Bahian culture, it finances several infrastructure works. It favors regional development, takes gas to regions that the private sector is not interested in taking because, perhaps, they are not the most profitable regions and, even so, it is an extremely profitable company”, says Alfredo, also valuing that, in a short time, the company has already returned 18% of the invested capital to the public coffers.
“In 10 months, Bahiagás returned to the public coffers R$90 million in profits and dividends that enter the public coffers to be invested in health, education and a series of other demands that the government has and would no longer have, if this profit was completely directed to the private sector”, he adds.
Consequences for workers
The director of Sindiquímica explains that the capital-work relationship of a private company is very different from that of a public company, since the private organization aims exclusively at profit. While in a state-owned company or even a mixed economy company, but with state share control, as is the case with Bahiagás, it is possible to prioritize development.
“Bahiagás workers have taken on a fight much more as citizens of Bahia than necessarily as employees. Obviously they are defending their jobs, stability, competition, but, more than that, they understand the impact on the lives of the people of Bahia. The price of Vehicle Natural Gas (NGV), which is so fundamental for application workers, the natural gas that is fundamental for the industrialization of Brazil and Bahia. So, they understand that a strategic company of this size needs to be state-owned to generate development”, highlights Alfredo.
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The union leader says that, in Bahia, there are precedents for privatizations that brought negative consequences to people’s daily lives. Santos reinforces that the state has the most expensive gasoline in Brazil due to the privatization of the Landulpho Alves Refinery, which now belongs to the private company Acelen. “We have no doubt that the same thing would happen with CNG, if Bahiagás is privatized, making the lives of application workers, for example, much more difficult”, he declares.
Still thinking about the repercussions on people’s lives, the union leader projects in the long term that the tendency of private companies is to focus on what generates the greatest profit. “Industrial gas represents 80 to 90% of Bahiagás’ most profitable portion. CNG, especially in the interior of the state, is not interesting as an investment for the private sector. The logistics to take this CNG, the possibility of industrialization in regions where there is no gas, such as the Southwest Gas Pipeline that is being built to take gas to the Jequié region, a private company would not make an investment like that. The return on an investment of this size is 30 years”, emphasizes Alfredo.
He believes that, in the long term, the privatization of a company like Bahiagás could be an obstacle to a reindustrialization process in Bahia and Brazil. “Today, Brazil is experiencing, under the Lula government, a process of focusing on reindustrialization, and natural gas is a fundamental part of this. The Lula government focuses on suspending the sale of Petrobras assets – initiated under the Temer and Bolsonaro governments – and focuses on the process of combating the privatizations that occurred under these governments. It is not possible for the government of Bahia to go against this and privatize a strategic natural gas company”, he declares.
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Bahiagás is an exclusive concessionaire for operating piped gas distribution services throughout Bahia, for a period of 50 years. The focus and relevance of the discussion, now, around the organization is not limited to the profits that are generated, but also to the growth potential that the company presents.
“The company has an astonishing growth rate. From one year to the next, it increased by almost 30%. The following year, it increased by almost 100%. So, it is a company that has a lot of expansion. Year after year, net profit only increases. The private sector knows this, which is why there is so much interest in stealing from the people of Bahia, in robbing the Brazilian people of this state-owned company that needs to remain state-owned”, declares Alfredo. He even defends greater state participation in Bahiagás and not a reduction.
Santos is emphatic in saying that the privatization of Bahiagás is not in the interest of the state of Bahia and the Brazilian people and that the only beneficiary of this action is the financial market. “It is no surprise that the Consórcio group, which won this notice and conducts the studies for this privatization, is the Genial group. The same one who led the privatization of Eletrobras, the same one who led the privatization of COPEL and the same one who gave an interview saying that with the suspension of privatizations in the Federal Government he would turn to state privatizations and mentions, by name, Bahiagás”, declares the trade unionist.
Source: BdF Bahia
Editing: Gabriela Amorim