Prime 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.