PRIVATE BATTLES

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* Santa Fe shareholders led by Suez and Agbar have voted to hand over control of Aguas Provinciales de Santa Fe to the Argentine government after failing to reach an agreement on transferring ownership to private investors.

Suez had planned to sell 77.5% of the company to local group Aguas Alberdi, allowing Spain’s Passavant Espana to operate the concession. But an Argentine government demand that Suez and Agbar first withdraw their lawsuit with the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes for $310 million in damages caused the deal to collapse. Aguas de Santa Fe will now be liquidated and the government plans to create the new Aguas Santafesinas (Assa), in which workers will have a 10% share. There is now talk that the much larger concession covering the country's capital, Aguas Argentinas, may go the same way as Suez and Agbar pull out.

* It is not all bad news for private water from Argentina. The government of the northwestern province of Catamarca is considering privatising all its water services and aims to extend the Aguas del Valle concession in the provincial capital San Fernando by 2½ more years. The government’s DIPAS agency currently provides drinking water and sewerage services but the provincial congress plans to pass legislation paving the way for concessions. The local government has also begun modernising some water infrastructure in the province to attract private investment.

* Meanwhile in France, Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of the former French president and chairperson of the France Libertés NGO, has begun a campaign to take the huge Sedif contract covering 144 municipalities around Paris, back into the public sector. Several dozen of the Paris region municipalities have backed the call. Patrick Braouzec, French member of parliament and president of the Plaine Urban Community, claimed that this would diminish the overall cost by 27% for water supply and by 20% for sanitation.