A number of the residents of Vale do Garrão, Vilas Alvas and Quinta Jacintina have read the “right of reply” from Infralobo with a mixture of disbelief, incredulity and anger. The general consensus is that at best it is a misrepresentation of the facts and at worst a complete distortion of the truth.
It is perhaps worth starting by going back to the beginning of this whole unhappy saga when in March 2014 the residents of the three areas had a circular from Infralobo put in their letter boxes announcing that they would be taking over the maintenance and water supply. It must be stressed this was presented as a fait accompli with no prior notification, discussion or reference to the residents concerned.
To have signed a contract for water, even though it was 30% more expensive if you were invoiced by Infralobo rather than from Loulé Camara as is the case for the majority of other residents, might have been acceptable but buried in the small print of the contract was a clause confirming you were also signing for a ‘bed tax’.
Legal opinion and also rulings from ERSAR, the regulatory authority responsible for water, advised in the case of the former that this was illegal and in the case of the latter ‘inappropriate’, and on the basis of this advice many of the affected residents declined to sign. Offers to sign a contract only for the supply of water were rejected by Infralobo. It is also the case a number of residents were intimidated by these tactics to the extent they did sign a contract, however in most instances in doing so they added a clause to say they had only signed under duress because of the bullying and intimidation from Infralobo.
It is also inaccurate for Infralobo to suggest the previous supplies of water presented a potential health risk. The residents in Vale do Garrão and Quinta Jacintina had been using the previous arrangements for more than 13 years and there were no instances of anyone being taken ill due to the quality of the water.
An action against both Infralobo and Loulé Câmara was presented to the Administrative Court during 2014 and it took eight months for them to come back with a decision that they were not the competent court to make a ruling on this case. It was then presented to the Judicial Court who in turn took another eight months to declare they also could not make a ruling.
A number of the residents either visited Infralobo’s offices or wrote or emailed them asking: if we were to be required to pay between €100 to €125 per month ‘bed tax’, what services would we be receiving for this payment?
Nobody who wrote or e-mailed ever received a reply, and those who visited their offices and spoke with Mr Idalecio Baptista only received a blank look and a shrug of the shoulders followed by the comment “you have to pay or we will cut your water”.
Access to a supply of water is a basic human right and it is against both Portuguese and European law to cut anyone’s water supply in pursuit of payment of an invoice that has nothing to do with the supply of water.
Our lawyers have drawn Infralobo’s attention to this as have ERSAR, however adhering to the law seems to matter little to Infralobo which proceeded, without any prior warning, to disconnect around 40 people’s water supply even though the water and sewage charges had been paid in full every month. So keen are Infralobo to disconnect people’s water supply they don’t have any qualms about vandalising residents’ properties to get to the meters.
For Infralobo to claim they have shown an openness and readiness to resolve this situation is farcical. They began making threats to cut people’s water supply before they had even officially taken over the responsibility for the water supply.
Despite the clear inadequacies of the Portuguese legal system, the residents are determined to continue fighting this appalling situation until justice prevails.
Although they may not like the comments, the reality is anything that is true can never be described as defamatory.
Vale do Garrão, Vilas Alvas and Quinta Jacintina residents, by email