Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Mark Barnett | NWC bankrupt of ideas? Think again!

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2017 | 5:00 AM
President of the National Water Commission (NWC), Mark Barnett.

The NATIONAL Water Commission (NWC) takes note of the article ('Bloated NWC is bankrupt of ideas') published on May 4, 2017, in reference to the presentation by former minister of state in the then Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Ian Hayles.

We believe it is important to, rather than respond to each criticism of the NWC by MP Hayles, instead, present a brief overview of our plans, which, we believe, is important to share with the general population.

Suffice it to say that Member of Parliament Hayles would be well aware that unlike in the past, where the Government of Jamaica (GOJ), through the Ministry of Finance, would make transfers to the NWC to support its recurring expenses, as well as undertake capital works, this has not been the case for many years now.

Although the GOJ provides guarantees for past loans, the fortunes have changed wherein:

a) NWC financed all aspects of its activities from the tariff granted by the Office of Utilities Regulation, in other words, from the collection from customers monthly.

b) Government guarantees are unlikely to be obtained for financing of our capital works, and hence we have adjusted by looking at other possibilities, where public-private partnership is just one option.

 

So what are the big ideas NWC IS embarking on?

 

1) Refinancing a portion of our US-dollar-denominated debt to reduce our risk of foreign exposure. It is important to note that NWC's earnings are in Jamaican dollars and our exposure for the last financial year, ending March 31, 2017, was $1.7b.

2) New capital works for expansion of service, which must demonstrate positive internal rate of return.

3) Embarking on major energy efficiency and renewable energy activities. Currently, we are undertaking:

a) Energy efficiency/renewable energy study through grant funding from the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) in the amount of US$1 million, looking at 13 of our largest energy-consuming facilities.

b) A request for proposal has been issued for the installation of solar systems at various facilities.

c) We just recently signed an MOU with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica for renewal energy installation, as well as reviewing energy efficiencies at specific facilities.

 

NON-REVENUE ACTIVITIES

 

4) We are undertaking non-revenue water activities in Kingston and St Andrew (KSA) that will be complemented by full SCADA implementation for the entire systems in KSA to the tune of US$46m. There are advanced plans to replicate these activities in the northern parishes, St James to St Ann; as well as in the southern townships of Mandeville, May Pen and Old Harbour, on the basis of performance-based contracting.

5) We are implementing ICT activities that will help to drive improvement and performance of the utility and, as such, we have begun at the customer level by installing solid state meters to ensure accurate recording of water consumed.

6) We have embarked on an activity for the full review of our organisation's structure, to align it with the core corporate objectives of:

a) Growing revenue and available cash.

b) Improving customer-service delivery and public image.

c) Building staff capacity.

7) Public-private partnership initiatives are being pursued, both for water supply and wastewater services. These include:

a) New water treatment facility at Content in St Catherine.

b) Expansion of the sewage-treatment capacity to include reuse at the Soapberry Treatment Plant in St Catherine.

8. We have undertaken the CReW Project, addressing eight wastewater facilities as well as the decommissioning of five facilities in Portmore, St Catherine, to the tune of $2.3 billion.

9. We are pursuing selling portions of our debts that have accumulated over time, as well as pursuing debtors of the NWC to the full extent of the powers under the NWC Act.

10. We have also commenced disposal of lands owned by the NWC but not required for operation, in keeping with the GOJ Land Divestment Policy. In addition, we are forging ahead to partner with the National Housing Trust in developing other lands that are suitable for multiple usage.

While there are many more BIG activities being pursued, all are geared towards improving service delivery and efficiency so that the earnings or savings can fund the expansion without much burden on the Government and people of Jamaica. We at the NWC are committed to the improvement and future of Jamaica. All we require is the commitment of all beneficiaries of our services to support us by paying for the service received, so that, together, we can enjoy improved and reliable water and wastewater services.

- Mark Barnett is president of the National Water Commission. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.