Uruguay minister vows to defend US$250mn water project

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Uruguay’s environment minister Adrián Peña said he would use “tooth and claw” to defend the Neptuno water treatment project (US$250mn), which has come under fire from officials and workers’ representatives at state-owned utility OSE.

“What we’re seeking is a solution so that everyone has access to potable water, which is under threat at present,” Peña told Radio Montecarlo, adding that water supply in capital Montevideo has been under strain for three consecutive summers. 

Peña added that he would defend the project, “because it’s the biggest investment in potable water in 150 years,” he was reported as saying by news outlet La Red 21.

The Neptuno project, which was presented by a consortium comprising the private sector companies Saceem, Fast Tecnología Industrial, Berkes and Construcciones e Instalaciones Electromecánicas, entails building a potable water treatment plant in Arazatí, San José department, which would supply Montevideo via an 81km pipeline, as well as parts of San José and Canelones departments. 

However, the initiative has been opposed by officials within OSE on claims that it represents the privatization of water services that should be provided by the State. 

Back in April, when the utility’s board was voting on the project’s feasibility, one director aligned with the opposition Frente Amplio political party voted against Neptuno, arguing that it could lead to the privatization of services in Uruguay, as the consortium that had proposed the development would also operate it for 30 years.

That official, former deputy energy and mining deputy minister Edgardo Ortuño, later went on to call the project “unconstitutional”, a posture shared by OSE’s main workers union FFOSE, as both argue that a 2004 plebiscite called for water services to be managed by the state. 

"We don’t doubt the need to increase the potable water available to the metropolitan area [of Montevideo], but we reject the idea that this be done through a business for private profit at the expense of the State's money, with terms of decades, the costs of which will be transferred to [water] rates and, therefore, to the population," the union was quoted as saying in a separate report by La Red 21.

In response, minister Peña said that OSE already has agreed various concession contracts for many services, so it would be feasible for the same to be done in the case of Neptuno.

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