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Speech

Acknowledgements and ThanksMr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to stand here this afternoon and give an account of my stewardship in this my third sectoral presentation as Minister of Water and Housing. I want to start by expressing my sincere gratitude to all those who have helped and supported me over the past year.
I must first thank my wife and children who have understood and even more importantly, accepted my desire to serve my country in this capacity. They have graciously given me the leeway to pursue my dream, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, yet they never complain. They are my most faithful advocates and when the pressures of my tasks threaten to overwhelm, their unwavering support helps me to recharge and refocus.
To the constituents of North West St. James, I say a big thank you for affording me the privilege of representing you. I must make special mention of the staff of the constituency office whose dedication and professionalism have helped me to manage the demands of a government portfolio and representational politics.
To my Party workers, my management team and the hundreds of persons in my constituency who have worked with me and placed their hopes and dreams in my hands, please allow me to reaffirm my commitment to work with you to overcome the many difficult challenges of Montego Bay. Some of these challenges are our informal settlements, urban decay, social dysfunction and its attendant crimes. Let me reassure you that together we will overcome.
I must also thank the Honourable Prime Minister for affording me the opportunity of helping to build a nation of which we all can be proud. To my colleagues in this House, on both sides of the aisle, we may at times have divergent views and doctrines but, at the end of the day, I am confident that we all want the best for our country.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the staff of the Ministry and its Agencies. Mr. Speaker, I have often said that the institutional knowledge and expertise that reside in this group of persons is exceptional.
They are a dedicated team and I have every confidence that they will continue to work to ensure that the vision that we have for the country is realized.
Background
Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to provide a comprehensive yet succinct account of what we have achieved during the last financial year and give a clear indication of where we are heading and how we intend to get there.
When the Hon. Prime Minister assigned me the responsibility for the water and housing portfolios, I was well aware of the magnitude of the challenge and although I knew that the task would be daunting, I resolved that under my stewardship, every man, woman and child in this country will have access to at least the basic levels of shelter and potable water necessary for them to live with dignity. Mr. Speaker, it is a portfolio that touches the life of every Jamaican. We have had several setbacks since then, some of which could not have been anticipated, but my commitment to that goal is just as firm today as it was then.
Mr. Speaker, the character of any first year in office is pretty much determined by the previous administration. In the second year we completed a comprehensive assessment of both sectors followed by major planning to set the stage for where we want to go. We had some successes but unfortunately, we did not accomplish as much as we would have liked in terms of actual implementation.
This was due in part to the international financial crisis and its impact on our local economy, which caused us to have to re scope many of our plans.
It is also a fact, Mr. Speaker, that major investments in infrastructure has taken some time to plan and procure before implementation. But this year, Mr. Speaker, we will see major activity in both sectors, as we move to fully implement our plans. In addition, the new economic framework that the government has put in place, has laid the foundation for real growth in this Sector.
On that note, Mr. Speaker, I must pause to pay tribute to my colleague Minister of Finance and his team, for the role they played in guiding this country through what has been one of the most challenging economic periods in our history. I believe this government must be commended on the steps that have been taken to stabilize the economy, as painful as they might have been. There are many, including some of my colleagues on the opposite side of the House, who would seek to belittle and raise doubt about the measures we have taken especially the Jamaica Debt Exchange Programme. What is important however, is that we have successfully stabilized and reversed the negative trends in the economy. We have laid out a framework for real growth.
Mr. Speaker, the decreasing interest rates that we are now experiencing along with the relatively stable currency, will undoubtedly have a positive impact on both the water and housing sectors. We will be able to restructure the capital base of the National Water Commission (NWC) to give us a more economically viable institution.
In addition, this new economic climate coupled with the revised policies of the NHT should result in major expansions in the real estate industry.
The Water Sector
Mr. Speaker, I will now turn my attention to the water sector.
The goal of the Ministry is to increase the percentage of persons with access to piped water within their homes from 90 to 100 percent in urban areas and from 45 to above 60 percent in rural areas. The National Water Commission (NWC) is the main government agency with responsibility for providing potable water and during this financial year it is projected to spend some $7.5 billion primarily on three major projects that are now being implemented.
Mr. Speaker, some $4.5 billion will be spent on the Jamaica Water Supply Improvement Project, $1.55 billion on the Kingston Metropolitan Area Water Project and $450 million on the Kingston Water and Sanitation Project.
The remaining $500 million will be spent on a number of ongoing projects that will extend service to new areas, improve existing systems and enhance the efficiency of the operations of the NWC.
The Jamaica Water Supply Improvement Project (JWSIP), will provide adequate supply of water for the Kingston Metropolitan Area, which includes, Kingston, St. Andrew, the greater Spanish Town area and Portmore.
Mr. Speaker, this project is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2011. Some of the major components of this project are:Replacement of the old Rio Cobre asbestos cement pipelineRehabilitation of the Constant Spring Water Treatment Plant and its intakesRehabilitation of the Seaview Water Treatment Plant and the Stony Hill supply networkConstruction of new wells at Halls GreenInstallation of approximately 70,000 customer meters in Ocho Rios and the KSAConstruction of a new pipeline from Ferry to Red Hills Improvements to the Forest Hills supply network
Mr. Speaker, we are “Building Communities and Improving Lives”.
During this financial year, it is planned to complete the replacement of the Rio Cobre pipeline between Tulloch Springs in the Bog Walk area and Flat Bridge. Work has commenced on the construction of the new wells at Halls Green. These and the connecting pipelines are scheduled to be completed by the end of this financial year.
Mr. Speaker, the JWSIP project will directly benefit the over 600,000 residents of Kingston and St. Andrew. The following areas will have noticeable improvements in the availability and reliability of service:Stony Hill/Golden Spring/Temple HallUpper Jacks HillUpper Red Hills/Forest HillAreas served by the Constant Spring Water Treatment Plant such as Constant Spring, Norbrook, Half Way TreeFerry
Mr. Speaker, in addition, persons in Greater Spanish Town and South-East St. Catherine, who have already significantly benefited from the KMA will have their supplies further strengthened.
Of note, Mr. Speaker, is that JWSIP will also include a number of rural water supply projects.
The Kingston Metropolitan Area Water Supply Project (KMA) is being jointly financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Government of Jamaica and the NWC to the tune of US$87 Million. Mr. Speaker, the primary objectives of this project are the improvement of the existing water facilities in Greater Spanish Town and South East St. Catherine.
Works completed to date on this project include:Rehabilitation of nineteen water production facilities, including the Tulloch Springs and the Spanish Town Water Treatment Plant Complete replacement of water mains in the Spanish Town Centre and in Willowdene Rehabilitation of nine (9) water storage tanks Installation of a 400 mm pipeline along the Sligoville Road and a 200 mm pipeline from the Little Greendale Well
The rehabilitation works have not only improved the efficiency levels of these production facilities, but has provided significant improvement in the water supply to major sections of the Greater Spanish Town Area.
Mr. Speaker, work is now progressing steadily on the installation of a new pipeline along the Spanish Town Bypass, with some 18 km of the 22 km pipeline having already been completed. In addition, a new water storage tank is now being constructed at Angels to strengthen the water supply system, for a major section of the Greater Spanish Town Area.
Under the KMA Water Supply Project, Mr. Speaker, an additional 5 million gallons of water per day will be provided through the rehabilitation of some existing wells and the drilling and development of new ones.
Cleaning and yield testing of the Angels No. 2 and Ariguanabo wells were done, as well as the completion of the drilling of a new borehole to replace the existing Chung’s Well.
Mr. Speaker, new wells will be drilled and developed to provide water for South East St. Catherine and detailed engineering designs are now being finalized to facilitate implementation during this financial year.
The Kingston Water and Sanitation Project is being funded through a loan secured from the Inter-American Development Bank for US$40 million. The total project cost is some US$55M. Execution of this project is being done in three major components:The first component is the reorganization and modernization of NWC to enable that entity to operate in an efficient and sustainable manner Secondly the project will rehabilitate the potable water supply system for the KSA to assist the NWC to satisfy the water demand for the medium term. Of note is that this component will focus on the reduction in the levels of non-revenue water by minimizing physical and commercial losses to an economically and technically acceptable levelThe third component of the project is the rehabilitation of the Darling Street wastewater pump station which is one of the major pumping facilities in the KSA.
Mr. Speaker, we are aware that our efforts cannot only be focused on improving the infrastructure and increasing capacity. A key component has to be an improvement in the efficiency of the operations at the NWC. It is for this reason that during this financial year we will also undertake efficiency improvement projects to be funded under the special K-Factor programme.
The National Water Commission has been mandated to operate as a commercially viable entity to ensure that it can sustain and expand its operations without dependence on central government for financial support.
Mr. Speaker, critical to sustainability of a divestment programme in water is the Capital Structure of the National Water Commission. If we are to operate as an entity independent of budget support, we must have a reliable Capital Structure.
Let me hasten to assure the public, Mr. Speaker, that the rural areas are not being neglected.
As I indicated earlier, our aim is to increase the percentage of persons in rural areas with access to piped water from 45 percent to over 60 percent. In this regard the Rural Water Supply Limited has been doing a tremendous job.
During the last financial year, work continued on 18 water supply systems in ten parishes.
These projects include: Broadgate, Top Enfield and Hunts Town Wellington systems in St. Mary which was completed and has been commissionedCatadupa Water Supply System in St. James – completed and commissionedMarlie Hill/Browns Hall/Macca Tree, Colbeck Heights/Red Ground/Bartons, Duxes/Point Hill, Johns Groin, Colbeck Planters and Waugh Hill Water Supply Systems in St. Catherine.Cascade Water Supply System in St. Ann – completedThe Peace River and James Hill Systems in ClarendonFruitfulvale Water Supply System in Portland, Hill Sixty in St. Thomas, Bottom Coffee Grove Water Supply System in Manchester, New Roads Distribution in Westmoreland and the Askenish/Dias Water Supply System in Hanover which is also completed and was commissioned.
When all are completed, these projects will provide a combined total of 1.6 million gallons of water per day for some 45,962 residents. As a result during this financial year we will see access to potable water within the rural areas moving to 60 percent.
So, Mr. Speaker, we are “Building Communities and Improving Lives”.
I will conclude my presentation on the water sector by briefly addressing what is being done by the Water Resources Authority (WRA). This is the agency charged with the mandate to regulate, allocate, conserve and otherwise manage the water resources of Jamaica.
Mr. Speaker, the WRA has continued to upgrade the national hydrologic data network with the installation of data loggers in wells and at river sites, coupled with the upgrade of six (6) stations under the Caribbean Hydrological Cycle Observation System (CaribHYCOS) project to provide real time data/information. The data collected will allow for a more robust analysis of climate variability and change on water resources and the provision of information for the determination of action to be taken to mitigate the impacts.
The drought updates provided by the Water Resources Authority is based on information collected from the hydrologic monitoring network.
Mr. Speaker, no where else in the Caribbean is there a similar network that allows for the provision of data on a monthly basis to provide support for the management of the water supply in such a severe drought.
I must also highlight the fact that the hydrologic information from the WRA also provided input into the report on the Caribbean water situation for the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Dominica in March 2010.
The WRA is also implementing a project on the assessment of the potential for rainwater harvesting across the island.
Mr. Speaker, the objective is to analyze the rainfall data for stations in elevated areas with rainfall above a threshold value, and to determine the feasibility, system and design for effective rainwater harvesting to augment our water supply. In addition, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has requested that the WRA expand the project to include two pilot agricultural areas where rainwater can be harnessed for irrigation purposes. This project will be completed within six (6) months.
The Housing Sector
Mr. Speaker, I will now turn my attention to the area of housing, which is far more complex and challenging. Unfortunately, we cannot fund housing with multi-lateral loans and therefore, unlike water, there is limited resources for the development of new housing solutions.
At present, a significant amount of the financing for housing comes from the National Housing Trust (NHT). However, the NHT by policy can only address the need of its contributors and as a result there is a large percentage of the population that is unaccounted for.
Mr. Speaker, the problems that we currently face in housing are however more than simply a case of supply and demand. Our post colonial attempts to address housing have led to some unique challenges. From the first two decades, government was heavily involved in the production of affordable housing but that became a highly political process that led to a change in policy. This saw government backing out of direct production. The result of this change was a decrease in production especially at the low income levels and a dramatic increase in informal settlements.
This process has now become endemic as it was further aggravated by severe inflation which increased the real cost resulting in decreased spending capacity of many workers.
Mr. Speaker, one of the first things that we set out to do after I assumed office, was to reestablish the credibility of the public sector by restoring the confidence of the Jamaican people in our capacity to develop affordable housing in a timely manner. I am happy to report that we have done that.
For the year just ended, Mr. Speaker, the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) commenced 3,076 shelter solutions at a cost of approximately $1.7 billion. Of this number, 1,130 have been completed. Of interest is that the Agency’s focus is no longer solely on Brownfield developments (squatter settlements); we have also been placing the spotlight on Greenfield projects (new virgin land). These Greenfield projects have accounted for 1,579 or 51 percent of the starts last year.
I am also pleased to announce that the Agency broke even last year for the first time since its inception in 1998; with a profit margin in the range of $150 million as at March 31, 2010. As a result of its repositioning the HAJ is now seen as a credible, viable entity and developers are expressing an interest in partnering with them to construct low cost housing.
Mr. Speaker, I must highlight the fact that the performance in the last financial year, was to a large extent due to the collaborative efforts of the Ministry, the National Housing Trust, the National Environment and Planning Agency, the National Water Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the National Contracts Commission.
This resulted in a large number of approvals being processed in a reasonably short time, and gives credibility to the thrust by the government to institute a ‘One Stop Shop’ as a means of improving efficiencies in the development approval process.
Mr. Speaker, the HAJ through the Government has secured a loan facility of US$71.2 million from the Chinese government to develop 3,300 shelter solutions which will be spread between Luana Gardens in St. Elizabeth and Belle Air 3 and Mt. Edgecombe in St. Ann. The Belle Air 3 project is of particular importance as the surpluses generated will off-set the cost of critical infrastructure to complete three long outstanding projects in that area namely Belle Air 1 and 2 and Mt. Edgecombe. Once completed, these projects will provide affordable solutions for hotel workers and halt the proliferation of squatting in the Runaway Bay area. Work on the design phase of the project is far advanced and construction should commence during the second quarter of this financial year.
Mr. Speaker, we are “Building Communities and Improving Lives”.
For the 2010/2011 financial year, the HAJ plans to start some 9,800 new shelter solutions inclusive of the Chinese funded project that I just mentioned, and over 50 percent of these will be completed by the end of the year. Of the 9,800 solutions, 7,639 solutions will be Greenfield projects, and the remaining 2,202, Brownfield developments.
The Greenfield projects will include:Portmore Villa 2BMineral HeightsWestmeade 1Congreve ParkLuana GardensBelle Air 1, 2 and 3Mount Edgecombe 5BoscobelRhyne ParkGreen PondShooters Hill
The Brownfield projects will include Flanker 2B, Lilliput Phase 3, Grange Pen Shaw Park Heights Phase 2 and Roaring River.
During this financial year, Mr. Speaker, the Ministry will also attempt to revive the Public Private Partnership Programme for housing development or what was previously termed the Joint Venture Programme.
Mr. Speaker, Government does not have the capacity or the resources to single-handedly address the demand for housing, however, as the past experiences have taught us, for this approach to be successful it must be properly managed. In going forward therefore, there will be strict adherence to the revised policy especially in the selection of our partners.
Mr. Speaker, we are “Building Communities . Improving Lives”.
Mr. Speaker, while not having direct portfolio responsibility, I will comment on the general relationship with the National Housing Trust (NHT), which has by policy expanded its role in production and has been critical in financing the Housing Agency of Jamaica’s greenfield projects.
With all the plans that we have in place, I am confident that we provide in excess of 10,000 housing solutions in this financial year.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to highlight that we have been focusing on three (3) areas that require special attention. These are rural housing, inner city redevelopment, and informal settlements. These highly sensitive areas are challenging as they have unique characteristics and needs, however, we must hasten to address them as failure to do so could do irreparable damage to the social fabric of our society.
We have to find a viable way, Mr. Speaker, of developing houses in the rural sections of the island and we are now in discussion with the Ministry of Agriculture to come up with a workable model. We are also working with the Urban Development Corporation to redevelop sections of downtown Kingston by using technology that will deliver quality but affordable houses.
Changes to the Existing Policy Framework
Mr. Speaker, early in my presentation I indicated that the second year was spent assessing the sectors and planning for the future. During that process it became abundantly clear that if both sectors are to be viable, then capitalization and policy must go hand in hand. If we try to undertake the capital works without a sustainable policy framework in place we will certainly not be in a position to realize our goals.
A Technical Review Committee has been established to review the Public Private Partnership aspect of the policy and come up with recommendations for a more equitable approach.
Although there have been various policy approaches to housing since Independence, the Housing Sector has operated without a clear policy for a number of years. I am therefore happy to report that we are now in the final stages of consultation on the National Housing Policy and Implementation Plan and the document will be completed by the end of June.
Mr. Speaker, what we now have is a sustainable policy that will lead to significant growth in the sector over the next 20 years and enable us to achieve the targets set out in the Vision 2030 document.
Some of the key proposals within the policy are:The use of new and bold affordable mortgage arrangements A revitalization of the Secondary Mortgage MarketExpansion of the sources of income that can be used to determine eligibility for mortgages to include remittances Expansion and transformation of existing housing subsidy programmes The use of unutilized and underutilized government owned land for affordable housing projectsPublic Private PartnershipsProvision for Special Needs HousingShared ownership of housing unitsReintroduction of reverse mortgages Rehabilitation and maintenance of the existing housing stockAcceleration of the squatter regularization programmeStreamlining of the Land Titling process
Water SummaryRestructuring of the capital base of the National Water Commission make it a more viable entity with a viable program for investmentGreater emphasis on other sources of water e.g rainwater harvestingReview of Water Sector Policy – Water and Sewerage PolicyArtificial Well rechargeMore effective management of our watershedBegin the process of investigation measures to combat Climate Change
The Way Forward
Mr. Speaker, in this the 21st century, our people who have demonstrated their immense talent in every field must be allowed to operate in a Policy framework that will ensure basic minimum living standards.
The provision of shelter and potable water are critical elements in this process and major contributors to the quality of life. This government is recommitting itself to provide adequate potable water supply and expand access to affordable housing for our people.
We will ensure that a sustainable Policy Framework and Investment Policy is established that leads to the development of healthy, dynamic communities across our beloved land.
Mr. Speaker, we will continue to “Build Communities and Improving the Lives” of all Jamaicans.