Time for decisions on water
Jamaica, the land of wood and water is in the throes of a serious drought for the second consecutive year. The effect of the drought is that it reduces agricultural output, negatively affects lifestyle and increases tensions in households considerably.
To compound the above, there is no projected relief for the short term. The ministry with responsibility for water has no foreseeable relief planned. Temperatures are soaring and the wind is constant. This speeds the rate of evaporation at the storage facilities. Those at the ministry only give us less and less of the commodity, at extended intervals. Failure all around. I have heard no response to the statement that a new reservoir was planned for St Catherine, years ago. The silence is deafening. We as a country have built no new storage facilities in the city of Kingston and its environs for more than 60 years, yet the population and commercial activity have grown significantly. What does the National Water Commission (NWC) do when there is no drought? They have not dredged the reservoir, though this was promised by the minister in charge. They have made no plans to move water from the north western section of the island to the region of greatest need. There is the Water Resources Authority stating that there is enough water on the island and the rivers are adequate for storage. If this is to be accepted, why has there been no water in the eastern sections of the city for years? Water harvesting is now the favoured buzz term. Who is going to monitor and see to the implementation of this new policy? The local government authorities cannot even handle the low level responsibilities they currently have. Do not accept that. Here is a fact. Most of the construction being done in the country has no approval or oversight from any governmental authority.
Water is life, so apparently the NWC has decided we must die for lack of the commodity. There are no public plans with timetables to move water from areas of abundance to areas of great need. I have heard that the tank systems found in rural areas were to be rehabilitated and restored to service. Talk. Cheap, empty talk.
It is time to privatise the NWC. Let us have some entity that will be held accountable. The present staff have been led by the same person for years. We know the name Charles Buchanan. He has been there for years. He has been the voice of the entity. Has it made a difference? In my opinion, there has been little value added by him.
There is a proposal to privatise the functions of the NWC. Listen to the howls of opposition. Water is a human right so we must have it at minimal cost, if we are to pay at all. The distribution of potable water in the country is inadequate. The NWC is the single largest user of electricity. The water mains are old and prone to excessive leakages. The sewerage penetration is stagnant, leading to the contamination of underground water sources especially in Kingston and St Andrew. Water is not being paid for. Waste is a problem, however any attempt to put the operation on a viable commercial platform is going to clash head-on with a national dilemma. Are we a socialist state or a capitalist one?
If we are socialist then let there be highly subsided wide distribution of water for all households. Pay for it with resultant onerous tax rates. How about a GCT rate of 50 per cent on all goods and services? This would leave the 'sugar daddy politicians' with a dilemma. How would they reconcile the tax rate with their need to be the purveyors of goodies? Free water, free electricity, free schooling, free medical care, free squatting on private lands, free public transportation and toll free roads. Not just one car in every garage and chicken in every pot. While we are it, why not free day care and free annual vacation?
The country needs a dose of reality. The demand for services is legitimate. The supply of services is facilitated by the policies of the political directorate. The decision needs to be made as to the kind of society we are to become. Is it the Scandinavian socialist model or the zeal found in the entrepreneurial countries of Asia? This debate has not been held on the national scale so there has not been the development of conversations on the topic. We need to urgently decide. Settle on a path and then water and all other matters will be addressed. Stop talking about the need to supply social water when very little of any water is being supplied. Stop talking about US12 cents per KW electricity when the regulatory and administrative framework reduces the rate the sole distributor of the commodity can charge. Do we encourage the profit motive or is this 'lala land', underpinned by nothing?