Barbados Water Management In A Mess
The recent appointment of former Senator Arni Walters as Executive Chairman of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has raised more than a few eye-brows. Given his extensive experience working in the labour market, one would have assumed his skills would have been needed in the position he was just removed. After all, the economy is expected to contract over the near term in a global economy which continues to behave sluggish. The other side to the argument some say, the government sees the organizational restructuring and transformation needed at a BWA in shambles as priority number one.
The poor state of the financial and management structure at the BWA which has reached a crisis state in recent months is an embarrassment to the country to say the least. It seems idiotic that during the boom years this most important state enterprise would have been neglected to the point which led it to being insolvent under the current administration. Perhaps Barbadians should have taken note when the BWA was excluded from the oversight of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) when it was established under the former government. The argument given for the exclusion by some at the time was that the government wanted to shield the less well off in the society from water rates driven by purely economic considerations. Given the financial state at the BWA it is conceivable that an FTC imposed rate may have been more burdensome.
The decision by the government at the time to enter into an agreement with Ionics Freshwater Ltd in hindsight was part of an ad hoc water management strategy at best. The Ionics water desalination plant is designed to provide fresh, potable drinking water to one-sixth of the island’s 264,000 people. The 30,000 cubic meter per day (7.9 million gallons per day) plant utilizes reverse osmosis (RO) membrane technology. We learned recently from Minister Lowe who has responsibility for the BWA that the government is contracted to pay Ionics Freshwater Ltd 10 million dollars annually. Minister Lowe expressed the view the price is too high. We all look forward to when the agreement expires originally set for 15 years.
It seems prophetic in 2000 when then Chairman of the BWA David Millington was quoted as saying, the Barbados Government was determined that the island’s economic development would not be held back by the lack of availability of fresh water. Ten years late the BWA has descended to such a state of inefficiency that a government fighting a recession had to levy a 60% hike in water rates to generate adequate cashflow to fund the urgent restructuring and transformational program needed at the BWA. The big question on our minds, why did we not take a similar decision in the boom years? Possibly in the boom period the restructuring could have occurred under less onerous conditions.
As if the gods are expressing displeasure, Barbados is currently experiencing a severe drought which is beginning to prod Barbadians to the fact that water must not be taken for granted. The biggest joke we heard recently indicated that the largest monthly expense at the BWA is for electricity. Why is it a country blessed with sunshine all year would see previous governments not being inventive in determining a power supply at the BWA not based on oil? Imagine the foreign exchange Barbados could have saved if the BWA was powered by solar energy?
We have encourage a large middleclass to build nice homes in built up neighbourhoods yet the idea that water tanks should be part and parcel of the house building continues to be taken for granted. How intelligent are we as a people, how successful can we say previous governments have been when that most precious resource has been so woefully mismanaged through the years?
Developed status by 2015 somebody big toe!