On February 11th, 2010 a public rally against the complete privatization of Acea took place in Rome. Acea is the partly public company that manages the water distribution system in Rome and other cities of the Lazio region. The purpose of the rally was

to remind the Major and the City Council that (quoting from online invitations) “water is a public good and no Major - regardless of how many votes he or she got - can give it away as if it were his or her provate property”

Rallies like that are excellent occasions to remind everybody, in Rome or everywhere else, to read again “Should water be public or private? Australian, of course!”: without complete, real time transparency in daily operations it makes little or no difference if the company in charge of water management is a public or private one. For example, both press releases and the official Acea website tell us that in February 2010 the City of Rome owned 51% of Acea. I tried to find special provisions in the Acea statute that assign special decision powers to minority stockholders, but I couldn’t find any. Should I be wrong, please let me know, since it may make partially moot what I write below.

As far as I know, 51% is more than enough to rule a company. If the City of Rome (or, more exactly, at least all its last 45 administrations) owns and has owned for years 51% or more of Acea this means that the the Majors of Rome had and have had for years the power to put public interest before private profit in this matter. Not only in Rome, but in all the other water management companies controlled by Acea. Ditto for the cities served by those companies. Acea ATO 5, for example, only has the power to ”/implement the Plan approved by the assembly of all the involved Majors”.

If this is the situation today, why has this “public” administration of water systems produced these results in Frosinone (served by Ato 5, of which Acea owns 94% of the stock):

_"we have the richest water basin in Europe, yet water is often missing in the Lazio areas served by Acea Ato 5... while the Lazio Region (where both Rome and Frosinone are) buys back at a much higher price from its southern neighbor, Region Campania, water from the Lazio basin that they collected for free in Cassino, Lazio"_

these results in Velletri (served by Ato 2, also owned (94%) by Acea):

_"Is it right to pay higher fees if we still get NO water for many hours every day? Are we paying a fair price for water that is not compliant with current laws, that is water that cannot legally be defined as drinkable? On top of this serios situation there is the fact that Acea never answered to tenth of compliants and denounces"_

and these other in Zagarolo, another Ato 2 customer:

_"water is rationed... and distribution is often interrupted even in moments when it's theoretically granted by contract"_

Just as my other article on the same issue, this isn’t a page for or against “water privatization”, nor is it for or against the 11 February rally in Rome.

This page is just another reminder that if the rules of the game don’t change first, in the right way (that is, as long as we miss complete transparency, clear assignment of responsibilities and, above all, quick sanctions of any violation of the rules) looking at water management just in terms of “what’s better, public or private” is almost useless. At least now, here in Italy.