The vexing south coast sewage mess should soon be a thing of the past as the country embarks on a long-term solution with financial help from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), says Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
In fact, he disclosed this afternoon at the first Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) luncheon for 2018, that he was in possession of a final report following extensive testing and assessments carried out by experts since December last year.
Stuart did not give details of the report, nor did he reveal how much it would cost to resolve the crisis.
However, said he would soon send the report off to the IDB, which would then provide the necessary assistance.
“The challenges on the south coast regarding the waste treatment plant there, let no one be misled into believing that we are treating it lightly. It is for us, a very serious agenda item, but it is not a simple matter,” the Prime Minister said in response to a question.
“So we are committed in the short-term to mitigation measures where possible, but when all is said and done, the country needs to be assured the Inter-American Development Bank is involved in this. We have reports. The matter is being evaluated. There are experts in this area whose wisdom and insights we have to take seriously and therefore on whose wisdom and insights we rely . . . So the matter is receiving our daily attention,” he assured.
Stating that he was not prepared to “wildly throw money” at the problem to only come up with a plan that may last for only six months, Stuart told representatives of the business community: “We are going for a solution that can make everybody happy.”
It was at the end of November last year that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had made contact with the IDB for assistance in tackling the issue.
Giving a summary of developments since then, Stuart said the IDB had sent a team to Barbados in early December to carry out “a very careful assessment” of the challenges at the sewerage plant, as well as the issues along the south coast.
At the same time the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), which came under intense criticism for its handling of the matter over the past year, had engaged the services of experts from Trinidad and Tobago to carry out their own assessment.
“The IDB said, ‘well, since you are talking to them [experts from Trinidad] and since we know some of them as well, let us hear what they tell you along with what you are saying, send the report to us for our evaluation and when we see the report we will make an assessment of it. We are prepared to help you at every stage – short-term solutions, with medium-term solutions and with a final solution,’” Stuart explained.
“The report eventually came in – combined reports from the Trinidad consultants and the Barbados Water Authority, and was sent off to the Inter-American Development Bank. As recent as today the main report was sent back to us, we asked some additional questions because we say we have to get this right. It cannot be allowed to continue as a problem that is a source of irritation for people from day to day. When you tackle it you have to tackle it in such a way that a final solution is secure,” he said.
Stuart further assured that as officials mull over a long-term solution, the Ministry of Health and the BWA were working together to put some mitigation measures in place for the short-term.
While noting that “smiles are not going to return to people’s faces until the problem is solved and people can get on with their lives”, Stuart suggested that the situation was similar to what existed when the south coast sewage plant was under construction, except that “the complaints we are hearing now are more muted than the complaints we were hearing when the plant was being built”.
And with Government currently facing the possibility of lawsuits from some south coast residents and businesses, Stuart recalled that when he became Attorney General in 2008 “the very first thing I had to do was to try and settle some fairly substantial claims that had been brought by people against the state in relation to that south coast [sewerage system]”.
He revealed that after learning of the south coast problem the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc had “advanced to the relevant agencies, about $4 million to invest in a piece of technology that it was thought would resolve that problem.
“We were assured it would. We got the specs, we got the invoice and that money was paid, the equipment was bought, it was installed, but the problems would continue,” he said.
“While we are not casting any aspersions on the people who were dealing with it at the local level, perhaps this problem is a little bigger than it is being imagined,” he added.