Barbados Water Authority: A Failed State Enterprise

water_nitratePrime Minister David Thompson announced in his recent Financial Statement 2009 that water rates will be increased to Barbadians, possibly as soon as next month. Although the Prime Minister has given the assurance that any increase will be negligible, the  impact must be judged by government on how the increase will affect Barbadians who are below the poverty line and businesses that use water as a significant input to production, we would urge the government to thread with care on this matter.

The revelation by the Prime Minister has triggered a side-debate about  the BWA not falling under the oversight of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), an institution which remains pregnant with promise to consumers well passed its gestation period.  It is our understanding that the current legislation prohibits the FTC from hearing complaints from government enterprises. Our source confirms that there is a move afoot to change the legislation.

BU understands the thinking and motive of the previous to shielding the BWA and by extension the people of Barbados from a privately run BWA. BU can also understand that oversight of the BWA by the political directorate would more readily feel the pressure to keep water rates down. The experience so far of the FTC and LIME, formerly Cable & Wireless has not been a rewarding one for Barbadian consumers. One shudders to think if the BWA were privatized where would the water rate settle.

The dilemma for the government at this time is the need for the BWA to urgently improve cashflow and capital funding. It is well documented that the BWA is near insolvent, there is high delinquency and obsolete management practices and systems. The greatest concern and in our view the most germane is its inefficient pipe distribution network which is said to be leaking upwards to 60% of water into the earth. The deterioration of the distribution network has been known based on our recollection for at minimum two decades.

Two related issues which should enter the discussion on improving water management in Barbados are,  the continuing reliance on fossil based energy to power the BWA pumping stations and reservoirs. More importantly is the high level of nitrate seeping into our water supply. While we accept that the current nitrate reading is not at the danger mark, it is closer to the danger mark when compared to the reading of 10 years ago. We understand that the high level of pesticides used in agriculture, and chemicals used to treat our increasing number of golf courses is posing a serious threat to water quality. The recent practice of squatting in Zone 1 areas only adds to the problem for the BWA management to guarantee quality water.

The issue of a water management policy or should we say strategy  needs to take on high level priority in Barbados. Water is a life sustaining mineral which human beings cannot exist without. The concern by Barbadians at the growing negative reputation which the BWA has been attracting to rival WASA in Trinidad has now become a national embarrassment. Regrettably the leadership which is required by the goodly Minister Dr. Dennis Lowe responsible for the BWA  has been missing so far in his tenure on the front bench. Here is an opportunity for Lowe to make a mark by delivering a sensible comprehensive policy position on improving water management in Barbados.

The many complaints from water consumers which have been rising in recent months is symptomatic of the lack of leadership demonstrated at the BWA in the last twenty years. Earlier governments must take responsibility for the mess at the BWA. One remembers in the 80s when the BWA was well funded but analogous to what is happening now with NIS funds being transferred to shore-up financially ailing  government departments.

0 responses to “Barbados Water Authority: A Failed State Enterprise

  1. I get your point too John.

    What do you see to be the best possible solution now?

    Maybe we should price water at a rate that emphasizes its true value in Barbados of 2009.

    …say the first 1000 gal / month free, $50 per 1000 gallons for the next 2000 gallons and $100 per 1000 gallons for any amount above 3000 gals / month.

    (just numbers from out of the air)

    …the alternative will be shortages and decreasing quality….

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  2. What is the BWA doing to reduce its expenses and effectively collect revenue due?

    While I agree that most people do not appreciate the value of water and takes the BWA service for granted,
    an increase in water rates will add to the cost of living, more people will drive to the few remaining standpipes to wash their cars on weekends and more people will ignore the bill for as long as possible.

    Either BWA functions completely as a business entity or as a social agency. It can no longer do both effectively.
    This uncertainty, regarding its primary role, influences the thinking and ultimately the actions of its customers and employees.

    Who will bell the cat?

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  3. Bush Tea

    Rates are one way.

    Another is rather than give concessions to “developments” just because they are “developments”, there should be a catch.

    That catch should be that the “concessions” are dependent on the developer making provision to supply the equivalent volume of water to the national grid.

    It may be that true desalination is funded by the “developers” who want to “develop” our land.

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  4. @General Lee

    You may be onto the crux of the issue.

    Imagine both parties when in government know the importance of water for survival would talk about a national strategic plan which propels the country into the 21 century but yet would allow the BWA to operate like a Wells Fargo outpost seen in your favourite Western movie.

    Conversely in steps the business savvy Bizzy Williams who sees an opportunity to live off the fatted calf by persuading government to enter a private public sector partnership and Ionics was born. Now because of government’s ineptitude the taxpayers not only have to rescue the BWA but we have to pay the private sector (Ionics) to provide water. We allow housing developments as John is alluding to be built hither dither and yon without any idea how the BWA will satisfy water needs. The development in St. Davids is an example where the BWA reservoirs will have to satisfy the added demand. The development at Pickering will be partially satisfied but over 1 million cubic meters of water will have to be found in the aquifer.

    The governments plan is noble but …

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  5. @David

    Just to make a clarification; but remember that I can only tell you what was in the grapevine. Since 2005-2006 the previous blp government started looking at water. Actually as intervenors, we were anxiously awaiting the move to change the legislation.

    Since this government has been elected, the story in the grapevine has not change, but what is more apparent is that this Government is doing something. While the PM has stated that he will fix the water rates, he has not made it abundantly clear that the legislation will not be changed down the road. This option still seems open; although not necessarily welcomed.

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  6. Minister Haynesly Benn who is acting for Dennis Lowe more than hinted yesterday that the domestic water rates will be increased by about 50%.

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  7. @ David

    That would be a tragedy. Taking an overall look at the BWA, it would seem that the only thing required is maximising its efficiency.

    One of the problems that we face is utilising the resources we have. Technology has not been properly applied.

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  8. @ROK

    A valid position remains unanswered, increased revenues because of increased rates but same inept management? The public/taxpayers need to know what is the plan, shakeup? We ask because there was a news report that the government has been waiting on the BWU.

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  9. General Lee

    Nationnews reports that the increase will be 60%.

    Mr. Benn admits that there is wastage by the BWA, but hopes the increase will force consumers to conserve more.

    He is reported to have also said that some people take home thousands of dollars in overtime pay weekly.

    I guess the best option then, under those circumstances, was to increase the rates.

    Gas, water, light, road tax, wage freeze … the battle against the cost of living continues, with consumers and taxpayers on the front line of course.

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  10. We will need to send a submission to the Minister and request transparency. Of great concern is the report about the amount of overtime. Indeed the management should be called to account for this; heads should roll.

    Every job should have a report outlining the scope of the job and accounting for time. Reason for delays and proper management of deployment of human and other resources is also critical information for achieving afficiency.

    At this time, whether or not the BWA falls under the FTC is not so relevant, in either case a battle would have to be fought in order to keep the rates down. The strategy here would be to engage Government and of course the public would be the ultimate judge.

    It is going to be a burden to deal with two utilities at the same time considering that we are short of manpower. Any Volunteers for research? We can do it right here; we can build a case right here.

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  11. Wright B. Astard

    When we compare the monthly rate of water against subscriptions to MCTV or Direct TV, or Sunbeach or Lime etc etc. What are we complaining about?
    Perhaps if we had channeled some of the Edutech millions toward renewing our aged water mains,which successive governments have neglected, we would be a lot better off today.

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  12. Or better yet the $19m that was given back to the BTC.

    Like

  13. Pingback: The Utilities Raping Barbadian Consumers « Barbados Underground

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