Water Minister Refutes Claims


Minister of Water and Housing, Donald Buchanan has refuted claims that the National Water Commission (NWC) recently embarked on an island-wide disconnection exercise for standpipes under the instructions of that Ministry.
Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday (June 7), Mr. Buchanan explained that the initiative taken by the NWC to disconnect a number of standpipes across the island was a part of steps being taken by the Commission to minimize waste and ensure operational and financial viability.
“The NWC has a mandate to be financially viable, but more importantly to be operationally viable. It is for that reason that under this administration, for the first time, over 600 new communities have been provided with water,” he told the House, adding that it was against this imperative of maintaining the momentum towards providing 85 per cent of the population with piped water, that the NWC “is insisting that it has to operate in a viable manner”.
Consistent with that mandate, Mr. Buchanan said the NWC recently embarked on a disconnection programme, not under the instruction of the Minister, but on its own initiative. Some 285 standpipes were disconnected, he informed, noting that this action taken by the NWC was one that could recur as the rationalization programme about to be pursued in respect of standpipes, would be just as critical as the payment arrangements between the NWC and the Parish Councils for the use of these standpipes.
Explaining further, the Water Minister said the arrangements with respect to standpipes were that the communities, which were in need, were provided with standpipes and the local parish council had the responsibility for the management of these standpipes with the NWC accounts standing in their names.
“The Ministries of Finance and Local Government have sought to subsidize the provisions of standpipe water to these communities as a means of addressing a social need,” he noted.
In January 2004, Mr. Buchanan informed, the Ministry of Finance and Planning paid some $275 million to the NWC to cover the arrears at that time for standpipe accounts.
“As part of that arrangement, the NWC has indicated to the local authorities that it is imperative that a programme be developed that includes a rationalization of these standpipes across the country, because it had become evident that there are a number of these standpipes which are no longer serving the original need,” he said, emphasizing that “these standpipes have become the basis of wastage of water and abuse of the system”.
Underscoring the importance of the viability of the NWC’s operations and the cost of running such operations, Mr. Buchanan said the Commission required for power supply alone, some $155 million per month. He further noted that the wage bill for the NWC was in the region of $2.4 billion per year, with total expenses of some $4.3 billion per annum.
“The NWC utilizes 140 wells and 320 other water supply facilities, providing 170 million gallons of water per day to the people of Jamaica, unprecedented in our history,” he told the House.
There are 2,653 standpipes across Jamaica, including 2,538 metered standpipes and 115 un-metered.Following consultations between the Water Ministry and the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, Mr. Buchanan said he met with the President and Chairman of the NWC and had arrived at an agreement to discontinue the disconnection process.
With respect to the payment agreement, Minister Buchanan said on Monday (June 6), the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government had also met with the President of the NWC and they were “in the process of working out satisfactory payment arrangements”.
In the meantime, Mr. Buchanan emphasized that the payment arrangement was only one aspect of what was going to be required to make the standpipe regime viable. The other aspect, he said, would be the operational and rationalization aspect, which was also critical.
“We are going to have to examine this in a rational way. The suspension will remain in place until the payment arrangements have been concluded, then we are going to embark on the next phase, which is the rationalization phase, which is not just a matter of payment or no payment,” he said.
Mr. Buchanan said consideration would have to be given for reconnection, but “it is not going to be on a wholesale basis, where this level of abuse and wastage of water is allowed to continue”.
The NWC is the statutory organization with the responsibility for the supply of potable water as well as the treatment and disposal of wastewater. Currently, some 72 per cent of the population is supplied with piped water.

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