JIS News

The Ministry of Water and Housing through the Rural Water and Sanitation Programme is seeking to pioneer a new approach of executing water supply projects in Jamaica.
Funded jointly by the Government of Jamaica and the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) at a cost of US$12.5 million over a four-year period, the programme, now in phase one, is being piloted in four communities – White Horses, Botany Bay, Pamphret in St. Thomas; Gravel Hill in Clarendon; Cotterwood in St. Elizabeth; and Mile Gully in St. Mary.
Giving an update on the programme, one year after its launch in October 2002, Donovan Stanberry, Chief Technical Director of Water at the Ministry of Water and Housing, says that over the past year, the Ministry has been actively engaged in capacity building in the selected communities, as it relates to both mobilising and sensitising residents about the new approach to delivering water.
“It is in fact a long process, to get the community just to mobilise around the issue of water in the first instance, and then the process of getting these communities registered as benevolent societies is quite an involving process,” the Chief Technical Director explains.
In fact, he admits that the current process “is longer than the ordinary contractual process, when the government does it by itself, but it is very necessary so as to get all persons fully onboard the project.”
So far, the selected communities have been organised into legal entities referred to as Benevolent Societies, under the Friendly Societies Act. They include; the Five Star Development Benevolent Society in St. Elizabeth; Gravel Hill Community Benevolent Societies; Whitehorses/ Botany Bay/Pamphret Development Benevolent Society and Mile Gully/Warwick Castle Benevolent Society.
Prior to the formation of the entities, each had to undergo extensive training in management in order to establish their rules and constitution, and were subsequently declared successful upon evaluation and registered under the Act. While this was under way, the Ministry was also busy designing the water delivery projects for some of the communities.”We were also very busy designing the projects and consulting the communities about how the projects would be configured, because it is really their project. We are just offering 90 per cent of the cost,” Mr. Stanberry points out, adding that the communities themselves had to cover 10 per cent of the cost.
The project design for water delivery represents “the least cost solution” as the respective communities will be required to take over operational responsibilities after five years.
Mr. Stanberry concedes that the real challenge of the project will face the communities when they take over the operations of the water systems. However, he notes that the Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) will be integrally involved in determining that the tariff will be sufficient to cover operations of the water system in each community. “Once the bids have been returned and a contract has been awarded for the construction and operation of the system, all the costs would be known and worked into a definite contract figure,” the Director explains.
Continuing, he says, “the OUR will immediately come onboard and indicate to the community, the tariff, and it will be sufficient to cover all that is required to operate the system, in terms of the chemical bills and so on.”
Incidentally, the OUR will also serve as a monitoring agent of the project because, the operators will obtain licences from the regulatory body, and under that arrangement, they will have to submit reports in terms of the quality of service among other requirements.
Prior to the operations being handed over to communities, contractors who successfully bid to construct the water systems will be required to operate them for five years – a first in Jamaica.
Built into the tenets of the contract of the private contractor, is a type of apprenticeship, which requires that they pass on basic knowledge of how to run the water delivery system to the communities. “We want the people of the communities to run their own systems,” the Director stresses.To further facilitate the apprenticeship, Mr. Stanberry anticipates launching a consultancy, whereby community development specialists will work along with the contractor to build the requisite skills in the community to run the water system.
“We are hoping that in five years, communities can take them over, if not, they have the option to extend the contract with these private contractors, but in every instance, the Ministry, out of public health concerns, will keep a keen eye on things to ensure that the systems are properly run,” the Director explains.
Meanwhile, the response of the communities has been one of overt excitement and profound involvement. Mrs. Linnette Vassell, Community Development and Gender Specialist for the project, tells JIS News that the prospect of improving the water and sanitation in the communities stimulated interest “off the bat”.
“What has also stimulated the interest of the people is the fact that, they are getting a substantial grant. They see millions of dollars being spent in their own communities and, they see themselves as an integral part of the process since being invited to participate from the very beginning,” the Specialist informs.
Members of the respective communities, Mrs. Vassell says, have been working closely with the Carib Engineering Corporation, creators of the designs for the water systems, in determining the locations of springs and other vital aspects of the project.
The commitment to the project has been clearly demonstrated. In two of the communities, residents have voluntarily donated land for the construction of reservoirs. “We have been seeing people mobilising the community to clear the areas, where the reservoirs will be built and also, doing fundraising in order to raise the 10 per cent (contribution),” Mrs. Vassell reveals.
The community, she says is using the “coming together around the water issue, to discuss and address critical problems in sanitation, which is a related aspect to the project”.
Discussing the commencement of the construction of the various water systems, Mr. Stanberry informs, that so far, the Ministry had tendered two of the projects with respect to the Whitehorses/ Botany Bay/Pamphret project. The Ministry recently signed a contract valued at $40 million for the supply of pipes and materials.
Currently, tenders are out for the construction of that project, as well as the Cotterwood project.
To speed up the process, the Ministry had a workshop from September 30 to October 1 at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, so that prospective bidders will get the correct information regarding the project as well as, put in proper bids for the projects. “We expect closing of the tender to be in a month or so, in respect to the construction in the Whitehorses/ Botany Bay/Pamphret project,” Mr. Stanberry says.
In regard to the other projects, tenders will go out shortly for Gravel Hill and Mile Gully, the fourth project, which came on stream a little later than the others. “We are just now doing designs and putting out tenders,” Mr. Stanberry explains. “I confidently see phase one of the programme coming to an end, in terms of the construction activities in another year to 18 months,” he further adds.
Throughout phase one of the programme, the Implementation Unit has been collecting base line data in terms of present challenges and experiences, so that at the end, an assessment of the impact can be done. “One of the things we want before going into phase two, is to have the benefit of what we would have learnt in the current phase,” Mr. Stanberry points out.
Phase two will see the expansion of the programme to other communities and will come on the heels of a public education campaign, which is expected to commence while phase one is being executed. The public education campaign is to enlighten rural communities about the programme and the benefits to be derived from it. “In phase two, which we hope to go into in the near future, it will be a whole different approach in terms of how we select the communities. It will be more demand driven,” the Director states. By this, he means communities should come forward requesting to be involved in the project.
“It will not be us going out there to find them, but people using their initiative because they know how they can benefit. They can come by themselves or under the auspices of an NGO for instance, holding their hands to come forward,” the Director adds, promising that phase two will be even more exciting.
It however, remains unclear how many projects will be selected for phase two of the programme, because the figure will depend on how many communities will be able and also, prepared to take on the responsibility of operating their own water system.
Overall, the Rural Water and Sanitation Programme is part of a wider strategy by the government to create an environment within the water sector where there is the National Water Commission, the largest utility with 70 per cent of the market, and the other 30 per cent of the market, who would be served through the new approach to water delivery. “We are proposing an alternative to empower NGO’s and community groups to take up the slack. So we are actually making the legislative changes that we can have multiple operators licenced under the OUR. They will be able to generate their own bills, just like the phone sector where you have Cable and Wireless and then there is Digicel and Centenniel. We are expecting the same,” Mr. Stanberry asserts confidently.
The programme is expected to benefit over 25,000 persons in rural Jamaica.

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