By: Victor F. Banks
Monday, 14 May 2012
It was a beautiful morning last Friday! We woke up to the good news that young Randall Richardson, affectionately known as “Sank” was alive and well after an all-night ordeal --- “lost at sea” in the midst of severe weather conditions. It is an ordeal that many families and friends have experienced in Anguilla throughout our history --- but very often the outcomes have been distressing. Indeed last Thursday was a most restless night for many Anguillians some of whom did not really know “Sank” --- but one can only imagine the heart wrenching experience it must have been for his lovely wife Candice.
The Psalmist David wrote the immortal words: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”. The tears and sadness outdid the rain that fell last Thursday evening --- but the joy certainly overwhelmed the bright sunshine of Friday morning as Crocus Bay came alive with cheery faces and expressions of happiness. It was a beautiful morning and a wonderful day!
There were a number of remarks being passed that morning that did not fit with the atmosphere of joy that filled the air. It is always disappointing when people use these occasions to say unkind things that are very often based on the unfounded rumours, which abound at such times. Fortunately, there were persons around who “took charge” and let it be known that it was an occasion to rejoice and give thanks rather than to posture and cast judgment.
Let me take this opportunity to thank all those persons who were involved in the search and rescue effort thus playing their part in bringing this ordeal to a joyous outcome. I thank you all knowing full well that your efforts would have been in vain --- but for the grace of God. To God Be The Glory!
But in the midst of the celebration at Crocus Bay that morning I could not escape the usual politics and inevitably the blame for something. The truth is that all I (Victor Banks) need to do to be blamed for something happening in Anguilla --- is to get up in the morning. Friday morning was no different and especially so because I was standing in close proximity to the Crocus Bay Water (Desalinization) Plant. Someone said to me loud enough to be heard by persons standing nearby: “Banks I hear dat you was responsible for closing de Water Plant!” I was surprised by the remark because up until that point I had only heard what the usual “wannabee journalists” were chattering on the airwaves. They had been saying that the plant was closing because the past Government had run up bills with the suppliers to the tune of some five million EC dollars. Fortunately, the Chief Executive Officer of the Anguilla Water Corporation, Mr. Rommel Hughes, made it clear on radio that those bills had accrued over the period that included the whole of 2011 and the current four months of 2012. Needless to say, even that statement has not reached a number of AUM supporters who continue to spread this baseless information around the island that it is the past Government’s bills that is the cause of the closure at the Crocus Bay Water Plant.
But despite my growing disgust with the refusal of this Government and its supporters to accept blame for anything, even after more than two years in Office, I decided to press for clarification. I was then told that it is alleged that I am a shareholder in the water plant and had authorized its closing to make the Government look bad. Obviously, since the CEO of the Water Corporation refuted the earlier story, the propaganda machine of the AUM decided to use another tactic. Put the blame on the usual culprit, Victor Banks! In fact, the Chief Minister has been spreading this lie regarding my ownership in the water plant in his whispering campaign and in the shelter of the House of Assembly for a long time now. It is therefore very easy for his (the CM’s) cohorts to embellish that lie even further so as to “cover up” their inability to devise a viable strategy to manage and deliver this vital resource to the people they were elected to serve.
Let me make it very clear that I am not denying the fact that there are significant issues with the delivery of potable water to households and businesses in Anguilla that must be addressed. However, none of these are new to the thirteen year old system of operations. What I am saying is that water is one of the vital resources that we struggled for over the years as a people. It was realized under the 1994 -1999 coalition Government and specifically through efforts in the Ministry of Utilities headed up by the Hon. Albert (Belto)E. Hughes. As Minister of Finance, I fully supported Hon. “Belto” Hughes in this endeavour and it has made a significant difference in the quality of life for many Anguillians.
The closure of the plant is indeed a step backwards in the delivery of one of the most critical needs for a modern developing society. It contributes to good health, sanitation, environmental aesthetics and food production. And my point is that the Government does not seem to be concerned about the speedy resolution of this problem and in fact it is difficult to understand how the matter got to this stage in the first place.
It may be useful to give a very brief history of the Crocus Bay Water Plant to establish context for the present situation. The ADP/AUM coalition Government (1994-1999) made the decision, after frequent droughts and concerns about the water lens in the Valley “Bottom” area, to put in place a water desalinization plant to supply potable drinking water throughout the island. The decision was made that the plant should be placed in a coastal area so as to have access to an infinite source of water. It was felt that even though it would have been cheaper to use brackish water from the Valley aquifer its availability during periods of drought would affect supply. Since Crocus Bay was the nearest point to the main reservoir and Government owned land in that area it was decided that plant should be installed there. The land would be leased to the successful company operating the plant for the duration of its contract.
As usual there were the several thousand local experts who came up with a number of theories why Crocus Bay was the wrong site. It was said that chemicals used in the process would poison the fish! It was said that the salinity of the water in the return pipe would make the seawater at Crocus Bay too salty for bathers! It was said that the plant would be unsightly! It was said that it would be too noisy! And so on!
An environmental study put many of these theories to rest and came up with means of mitigating the impact of some of the others. For example, in the bidding document for the water producing company, the details of the building and surroundings were specified. And even though it would have been cheaper for the plant to have its own electricity generating capacity it was decided that use of the public supply (ANGLEC) would be less noise polluting. Government in the agreement pays the electricity cost for the plant so as to establish a fixed cost per thousand gallons of processed water from the producer.
The decision to enter into a contract with a water producing company was made because Government did not have the in-house expertise or the financing for such a capital-intensive project. The plan was to enter into a multi-year contract arrangement with a “buy-out clause” that would enable Government to own the facility at the end of the period. Government could then decide whether it could take on the management of the facility at that point or enter into another contract agreement. Over the years there have been a number of amendments to the contract by mutual consent to the extent that the agreement will now end in 2015. In fact during the period the original operator, Aqua Design Ionics, sold out to the present operator, General Electric.
Another challenge for the Government when the water plant was installed was to ensure that it could bill and be paid for a maximum of the amount of water distributed to consumers. This required upgrading the distribution system and the metering system at great costs. As these systems improved the viability of the Utility as a business unit improved but there was and still is need for a considerable culture change among consumers. It is alarming to hear that even today figures that I have received from my research indicate that there is water loss in the system of approximately sixty-six percent (66%) of water distributed. The breakdown of this loss is alarming as follows: 8-10% due to meter errors; 35-40% due to leakage from the lines; and approximately 50% due to pilferage (i.e. stealing).
With the coming into being of the Water Corporation, the past Government understood that it was handing over the national water distribution system to an entity completely owned by Government with the aforementioned challenges. In those circumstances it also understood that it was necessary to assist the new corporation into becoming more viable by providing a subvention to cover such losses that it would have inherited and which the Government during its management tenure had subsidized from the Consolidated Fund. Government as one of the largest consumers of water would also have to pay its bills. In short it was understood that as the Water Corporation progressed it would be “weaned off” the subvention but Government would always have to pay its water bills.
Returning to the present --- the situation in which we now find ourselves is the result of a number of issues that remain unresolved as follows: 1) The Water Corporation owes General Electric, the supplier approximately EC$5 million. 2) The Government of Anguilla owes the Water Corporation over EC$1.5 million for water consumed by its several agencies. 3) The Government of Anguilla has not been supplying a realistic subvention to the Water Corporation since 2010. 4) Water losses particularly from pilferage require the allocation of more resources. 5) Royalties for water extraction from properties operating their own plants should be paid to the Water Corporation to help to meet the marginal costs for the distribution of water island-wide. 6) There must be a realization that reliable access to potable water island wide is ultimately a Government responsibility. This list is not exhaustive but rather suggestive of a real disconnect between the present Government and its responsibility to ensure that its people get access to a reliable source of water as a basic human need and right.
To put it bluntly, there should be no need for us to be worrying about whether or not General Electric will take its plant out of Anguilla. A responsible Government would not have allowed things to deteriorate to that point. It is my understanding that the Water Corporation has acknowledged its debt but without Government’s cooperation it is unable to agree to a payment schedule. Whether this is true or false it is the Government’s responsibility.
For the entire twenty-seven months that this Government has been in Office it has been using political solutions to deal with technical issues. Every time there are at conflict with a statutory entity they want to change an entire Board or appoint a few political cronies as Directors. Come on guys! You are running out of time and the blame game is getting so lame it’s a shame!
Returning to last Friday morning let me say that “my accuser” was playing the “devils advocate”. He was really merely pointing out to me how ridiculous the political climate had become. He knew it was blatant ignorance --- but he also knew that there are persons who are willing to believe it and still others ready to spread it. The Good news is that such nonsense could not spoil that beautiful morning. Our beautiful morning! My beautiful morning! But the truth is my philosophy and faith makes me regard every new day as the best day of my life! Joy comes every morning --- Indeed!
By: Victor F. Banks
Posted by Realist Spikenice at 01:28