Senate Approves Amendments To NWC Act

The Senate approved amendments to the National Water Commission (NWC) Act on Friday (Jan. 30) to harmonise the provisions of that legislation with the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) Act and the Water Resources Act, with regard to the power to recover debts, issue licences and set tariffs.
Piloting the Bill, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, and Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman elaborated, “Under these amendments, the NWC will no longer have the power to licence other operators, removing the inherent conflict of interest in the current arrangement where the NWC licences its competitors. Also, the power of the Minister to determine tariffs is being removed from the Act and will now be fully vested in the impartial and independent office of the OUR”.
He pointed out that the amendment was about correcting some of the anomalies and changing some of the penalties involved with breaches of the NWC Act, but substantially, it was about ensuring that sewerage connections when made outside of the Corporate Area were provided for in the Act.
Additionally, he said, the Bill sought to ensure that the Act was consistent with the OUR Act so that the Minister of Water and Housing no longer had the power to set the rates which were charged to consumers.
Senator Whiteman pointed to the fact that the current legislation allowed the NWC to connect private property to its central sewerage system wherever the system existed, but that this power was presently restricted to Kingston and St. Andrew. “The amendment will extend that power to the entire island so that the nation can reap the environmental benefits from the construction of the three major sewerage systems in the tourist areas at a cost of $2 billion,” he stated.
Any future extension of sewerage systems across the island will be provided for through this amendment. There will be an obligation on the part of property owners and occupiers to connect to those systems and there is a mechanism for ensuring that the cost incurred in making that connection is recovered in time and in an appropriate manner.
Under the current legislation a customer who commits an offence under the NWC Act can only be fined $1,000, which is not a deterrent. This fine will be increased to $250,000. “Care has been taken so that the exercise of this power will be judicial and free of arbitrariness,” Senator Whiteman assured.
Explaining the background to the legislation, Senator Whiteman told his colleagues that Government had been seeking to create a more effective and sustainable water policy and water sector policy strategy and action plan for the country, and that this strategy and action plan had been approved and was now in the public domain. The overriding objective of this policy, he informed, was universal access to water by 2010 within a framework of multiple players including the private sector and the community organizations. “This warrants legislative changes to create the kind of regulatory framework required for and conducive to multiple participants carrying out different functions in the sector,” he said.
While concurring that the NWC had to take effective measures to recover fees for the provision of sewerage services, Opposition Senator Arthur Williams argued that the provision should be amended to seek recovery not only from the occupier of the premises, but from the owner and agent of the owner. He said payments should only be recovered from the occupier or tenant after efforts to claim from the owner and or agent had been unsuccessful.
Responding, Government Senator Keste Miller stated, “The user of the water should be the primary person who should have the responsibility to pay. As to how the arrangement is worked out with the landlord, that is between them, contractually. The parliament cannot legislate that and ought not to. It is a private matter between the landlord and the tenant”.

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