Against the backdrop of what some are already calling a national water crisis and strong fears expressed by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) that it could result in privatization of this island’s lone water company, a leading private sector official Monday suggested that some level of divestment was now necessary.
However, businessman Chris deCaires expressed the view that even if the Freundel Stuart administration remains reluctant about an all out sale of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), it could go the route of a private/public sector partnership.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, deCaires, the former head of the local private sector agency and the current chairman of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), also suggested that poor management and lack of accountability were at the core of the BWA’s present ills.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the problems that are facing Barbados go back to senior management and leadership, much more than it does to the rank level employee.
“So there are things that we need to change, and as a society we need to make more people accountable. First of all you have to set an objective and a standard,” he said.
He insisted that responsibility for recent water woes that have virtually brought householders in St Andrew, St Peter,
St Joseph, St Lucy and St Thomas to their knees, should not be shouldered by the utility’s workers, blaming instead the absence of a proper system.
Last week Minister of Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick also defended the BWA’s workers in the face of widespread outages that have plagued these parishes in recent weeks.
However, Dr Estwick has been equally insistent that the Freundel Stuart administration was not to blame for the perceived crisis, even though the Opposition Barbados Labour Party has been adamant that the current Government was at fault.
While the two political sides continue to trade blame over the persistent water problems, there has been a rising chorus of calls for Government to divest the BWA, with a top official of Ionics Freshwater Limited suggesting recently that the island’s water services would better be administered through a public/private sector partnership.
The company has for the past 16 years been operating a brackish water desalination plant on Spring Garden, St Michael, where it treats in excess of seven million gallons of water per day, which it then sells to the BWA under a special agreement.
In support of this view, de Caires Monday highlighted the Barbados Light & Power Company (BL&P) and the island’s telecommunication sector, saying Barbados had a “wonderful precedence that privatization works”.
“The Barbados Light & Power is seen as a pretty good company, and despite all the challenges that the telecommunication business has had over the last few years, we have a reasonably good structure in Barbados,” the respected businessman said.
“I don’t see why that couldn’t work for the [Barbados] Water Authority,” he added.
“If we think we need to get more control, because water is an important element, then we should do a private sector and public sector partnership, but a true partnership where it has an operational issue and not just getting money from the Government,” he said.
The business executive said he was aware that privatization of the water company would be an emotive subject.
However, he said because of the BWA’s high expenditure there was merit in Government placing it in private hands very much as it did with BL&P.
In recent weeks the privatization debate has centred on the operations of the state-run Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), with the NUPW warning that any such move would have a deleterious effect on workers as well
as consumers, who the union said would be made to pay more for garbage collection services.
However, given the SSA’s dwindling fleet, which has contributed to bothersome pile-ups of garbage across the island, deCaires said he supported the move made last week by Government to engage private waste haulers to assist SSA with collection in at least four parishes for the next six months.
“We have some public entities that work very well but those are the ones that get provided with good funding and equipment. The SSA for example, how can you possibly manage with 15 out of a required fleet of 34? You have to be a super person to do that. They are running the trucks virtually 24 hours a day, that can’t be any good for the equipment, so it is not surprising that their standard has dropped,” deCaires said, while pointing out that funding was critical.
“For the [Barbados] Water Authority and the sanitation at the moment, there are macro things that are wrong. So it is a good opportunity to re-examine and to be level headed and not to be emotional, to try and find a good system that works for all the people in the country, because we all pay for it one way or another [with] our taxes going into a Consolidated Fund,” he told Barbados TODAY.