The mayor of Petrolina, Miguel Coelho (MDB), has criticized the city’s water supply and sanitation services since his first term (2016-2020). The responsibility for the services was the State Sanitation Company (Compesa), at least for the time being. Favored by the “New Sanitation Framework” (Federal Law 13,026), sanctioned in July 2020, Coelho tries to municipalize the management of water and sewage in the municipality. But the situation cannot be resolved at Petrolina’s borders.
Also in the first half of August, the mayor sent the City Council a bill to municipalize the water and sewage system, creating the Sertão Water Supply and Sanitation Company (SAAS), linked to the municipality’s Infrastructure Department. The promise is to guarantee a technical team, water supply, expand the sewage network and even fight the networks of “clandestine sewage” dumped in the São Francisco River.
The complaints are that the services provided by the state company are precarious in the municipality. There is an assessment that the public company earns more in Petrolina than it invests and that part of the resources obtained in the municipality is used to invest in the water infrastructure of smaller municipalities in the region. Another common criticism is that the Compesa works leave a trail of broken streets, whose paving needs to be re-paved by the municipality – this complaint is not exclusive to Petrolina. In a video published on his social networks, the mayor said that he was “tired of Compesa’s negligence and unpreparedness with Petrolina”.
Two weeks after the arrival of the PL in the Chamber, the councilors approved the bill on the 24th, by 19 votes to 1. The only vote against was that of councilor Gilmar Santos (PT), who criticized the lack of debate with specialists, with the population and pointed out “privatist trends” in the project sent by the Executive. “Everyone is talking badly about Compesa and in that sense we are in relative agreement. But this argument of the concern to manage the resources of the population of Petrolina does not hold up. If that were the case, they would defend the creation of a municipal public company, with a public hearing, listening to the population, which is what I defend”, argues the PT councilor.
Last Monday (06), Miguel Coelho sanctioned the creation of the Sertão Water Supply and Sanitation Company (SAAS) and stated that the municipality is prepared for a legal battle. “In relation to a possible judicialization by the state government, it is obvious that we are prepared. The Supreme Court has already defined that the granting authority and the concessions belong to the municipality”, he says.
The approved project creates a publicly traded company, aiming to attract investors, private shareholders, who can participate and influence the management of SAAS. “Why are they defending the creation of a company in which Petrolina will manage only 51%? If we are concerned about controlling our resources, why not 100%?”, asks Gilmar Santos.
The councilor believes that, under private management, the problems experienced with Compesa could get worse. “If a private company takes over the service here, what guarantees us that it will use the profits to reinvest here?”, he provokes. The PT dubbed the project “sanitation chloroquine”, as in his opinion it was a false solution, “reckless” and “ineffective”. “It is an adventure that benefits private capital, but does not improve living conditions in our municipality”, he concludes.
Compesa, in turn, issued a statement stating that the approved municipal law will not have practical effects, since a higher legislative body, the Legislative Assembly of Pernambuco, approved in July this year the Complementary Law 455/2021, which makes municipal initiatives for provision of sanitation services. State law institutes the model of regionalized blocks, creating only two blocks. Petrolina is part of the “Microregion Water and Sewage of the Sertão” together with 23 other municipalities. The remaining 160 municipalities are part of the RMR-Pajeú block.
The state company defends itself by arguing that it has made investments in the order of R$200 million in Petrolina’s water infrastructure in the last 10 years, guaranteeing water supply for 100% of urban homes and sewage disposal for 84% of the urban area. According to Compesa’s supply calendar, all neighborhoods in the urban area have a daily 24-hour water supply.
In response to the Brazil in fact Pernambuco, Compesa recalls the sanitation ranking of Instituto Trata Brasil, in which Petrolina is the city with the best water service in the state and 32nd in the country. “This reality is the result of the municipality’s privilege to be located on the banks of the São Francisco River and of the large investments in the water supply structure already made by the State Government and Compesa”, says the note sent to the report.
In rural areas, the service provided by the state company leaves a lot to be desired. Compesa admits that it supplies water to only 18.8% and sanitation to 13.5% of the 74,900 inhabitants of rural Petrolina. “There is an ongoing program, by the Government of Pernambuco, called Integrated System of Rural Sanitation (SISAR), which will define a state policy for the expansion of the service of sewage services in these areas”, promises the agency in a statement.
O BoF Pernambuco contacted the Municipality of Petrolina asking for an assessment by the municipality of Compesa’s services; inquiring about SAAS priorities if it becomes operational; management model intended for SAAS; and how to make a municipal system viable in view of the state law that makes such a model impossible. Until the closing of this matter, the city had not yet responded to the report.
In the northern forest zone of Pernambuco, the municipality of Itambé has been municipally managed since 1968. The Infrastructure Department is responsible for the system, which has received very little investment over these 50 years. Despite being in the region of the state with more rainfall, the population only receives tap water every two or three weeks – and almost always muddy water.
According to a study by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, of the 36,500 inhabitants of Itambé, around 22,000 (60%) have a water supply, with around 15% using wells or natural water sources and 25% using “ other forms of supply”. The sanitation network is even more precarious: only 18.4% have adequate sanitary sewage.
In Pernambuco, Compesa operates in 172 of a total of 184 municipalities. Itambé is one of 12 with municipal systems. Also in the forest area are Água Preta, Amaraji, Catende, Cortês, Gameleira, Jaqueira, Palmares and Xexéu; besides Iati in the agreste and Carnaubeira da Penha and Inajá, in the hinterland of the state; all with independent networks from Compesa.
The state company, however, encourages private activity in this type of service and classifies as a “successful experience” the Cidade Saneada Program, a public-private partnership to serve Goiana (in the northern region) and the 14 municipalities of the metropolitan region of Recife. “The partnership aims to deliver new sanitary sewage systems in cities where Compesa does not yet operate, in addition to expanding the existing structure. The goal is to achieve sanitation coverage of 90% of households in the metropolitan region”. The program started in 2013 and runs until 2037, with a budget forecast of R$6.7 billion.
Source: BoF Pernambuco
Edition: Vanessa Gonzaga