Gov’ts must keep con­trol of con­sumers’ wa­ter sup­plies

Con­sul­tant says pri­vate-sec­tor should be ap­proached to as­sist with fund­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - SOMETHING EXTRA - Jo­van.john­son@glean­erjm.com

Dr An­drew Wheat­ley ad­dresses the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Caribbean Util­ity Reg­u­la­tors Con­fer­ence in Mon­tego Bay, St James, on its sec­ond day yes­ter­day. MON­TEGO BAY, St James: ECLARING THAT she’s a so­cial­ist when it comes to crit­i­cal re­sources, Kath­leen RiviereSmith, a for­mer head of the util­ity reg­u­la­tion au­thor­ity in The Ba­hamas, be­lieves Caribbean gov­ern­ments must keep con­trol of wa­ter while ag­gres­sively pur­su­ing pri­vate-sec­tor fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments to en­sure the re­source’s re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity.

The de­bate has been rag­ing in Ja­maica, with work­ers of the coun­try’s Na­tional Wa­ter Com­mis­sion (NWC) some months ago ex­press­ing their con­cerns in a protest about Gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tions.

The is­sue is high on the agenda of the 14th Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Caribbean Util­ity Reg­u­la­tors (OOCUR) con­fer­ence un­der way in St James, where more than 160 re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ex­perts are hav­ing their say on how reg­u­la­tion can strike a bal­ance of de­vel­op­ment, con­sumer sat­is­fac­tion, and profit mo­tives of in­vestors.

Riviere-Smith said gov­ern­ments are strug­gling to pro­vide af­ford­able, re­li­able wa­ter to Caribbean res­i­dents, but, ac­cord­ing to her, that is not rea­son enough to turn over the pro­vi­sion of the re­source into pri­vate hands.

“Wa­ter san­i­ta­tion is also one of the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals by the United Na­tions. There’s a re­al­i­sa­tion that a lot of us do not have clean, potable drink­ing wa­ter much less wa­ter to func­tion daily. We need to look at ways of im­prov­ing the sup­ply of potable wa­ter. Even though we are is­land na­tions, we’ve not been do­ing the best in terms of how we sup­ply potable wa­ter,” the for­mer head of the Ba­hamas’ Util­i­ties Reg­u­la­tion and Com­pe­ti­tion Au­thor­ity told The Gleaner.

“A lot of the wa­ter com­pa­nies are still state-owned, which is a chal­lenge, but when it comes to that as­pect, I tend to be a bit so­cial­ist. Wa­ter can re­main with the gov­ern­ment or a mu­nic­i­pal­ity, how­ever, they need to re­move the pol­i­tics out of it and it needs the cap­i­tal in­vest­ment.”

DSEEK PART­NER­SHIPS

The con­sul­tant said gov­ern­ments should try to es­tab­lish part­ner­ships with the pri­vate sec­tor to fa­cil­i­tate the in­vest­ments in wa­ter-sup­ply in­fra­struc­ture, which Riviere-Smith said is needed through­out the Caribbean.

In the Turks and Caicos Is­lands, some res­i­dents say they have had enough of the ex­per­i­ment with pri­vati­sa­tion.

Kenva Wil­liams, who is at­tend­ing the OOCUR con­fer­ence, said he be­lieved that Kath­leen Riviere-Smith, for­mer head of the Ba­hamas’ Util­i­ties Reg­u­la­tion and Com­pe­ti­tion Au­thor­ity.

the gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties of the Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory should try to re­take con­trol of the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter.

“I’m in a sit­u­a­tion, per­son­ally, where I’m lo­cated in the is­lands, in Prov­i­den­ciales in the Blue Hills area. Mind you, you may have wa­ter in the Blue Hills area, but above 20 feet, there is no wa­ter,” said Wil­liams, the direc­tor of tech­nol­ogy for the ter­ri­tory’s Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion.

“In go­ing to the pri­vate com­pany, to get ac­cess to city wa­ter, they are say­ing I need some $50,000. We sign a pe­ti­tion and we give it to the wa­ter com­pany. There were prob­a­bly about 20 sig­na­tures, and we showed them where they could make the money in less than a year. But at the same time, they are say­ing that that is not jus­ti­fied fi­nan­cially in their view,” he said.

He added: “They want to make a profit and gov­ern­ment doesn’t have any au­thor­ity over the pri­vate com­pany to say go ahead and give those ci­ti­zens wa­ter. It may only

be 20 per­sons, but at the same time, we are peo­ple.”

NO REG­U­LA­TORY AU­THOR­ITY

Wil­liams said he was not aware of a reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity set up since the au­thor­i­ties in 2008 di­vested the wa­ter util­ity to the Cay­man Is­lands-based Con­sol­i­dated Wa­ter Co Ltd to pro­vide for the more than 30,000 peo­ple on five of the seven is­lands of the tourism-de­pen­dent ter­ri­tory.

In July, the lead Ja­maica Gov­ern­ment minister on wa­ter, Dr Ho­race Chang, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was mov­ing ahead with pri­vatis­ing the NWC, not­ing that there are ben­e­fits in ob­tain­ing cap­i­tal to pay off debts and en­able fur­ther in­vest­ments.

In July last year, Mark Bar­nett, the pres­i­dent of the NWC, who was then act­ing in the post, said he was against pri­vatis­ing, not­ing that wa­ter was too sig­nif­i­cant a re­source for its man­age­ment to be left in pri­vate hands.

PHOTO BY PAUL CLARKE

PHOTO BY PAUL CLARKE

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