Thu | Jan 28, 2021

Mark Wignall | Solving the great water puzzle

Published:Friday | January 4, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Mark Barnett, president of the National Water Commission.

Through the 450 systems operated by the National Water Commission (NWC), on average, 180 million gallons of water are produced each day. It costs the NWC $120 per gallon to produce water, which is then sold at $220 per gallon.

Only 30 per cent of the amount produced (54 million gallons) is billed and, on average, the NWC collects $2.3 billion per month from the Jamaican consumer. All of that was gleaned from an interview I had last Wednesday with President of the NWC Mark Barnett while I was hosting the talk show 'Cliff Hughes Online' on Nationwide News Network.

According to Mr Barnett, he did not have his computer with him to give me a breakout of the myriad reasons for the 70 per cent loss, but a story I was told about well over a decade ago probably points in that direction.

A young man living in a house in Harbour View willed to him by his late father was presented with an NWC bill for $600, and for some reason or the other, he was late with the payment and his supply was cut off while he was at work. The next day, he showed up at the NWC offices to pay his bill. He pointed out to the clerk that the account had never before been late and questioned why they cut his supply for being seven days late.

But that was not all. He had another NWC bill with him for a property his father owned in Arnett Gardens (Jungle), a gritty inner-city garrison community. That bill was for in excess of $4 million. The story behind that bill is interesting, to say the least.

When the father bought his Harbour View house in the 1960s, he had taken his small family from Arnett Gardens as he was 'stepping up in life'. Occasionally, the father would visit Jungle to collect rental from those to whom he had rented the house. As tribal politics led to the deterioration of the community and criminality reared its ugly face there, the father visited one day in the mid-1970s to collect his rent. Instead, he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun and a man in the house saying, 'Don't @!#* come back ya so fi any rent!'

And that was how the man's property was commandeered by thugs and low-lives. That NWC bill in excess of $4 million was for that house in Jungle, which NWC personnel could not dare visit to disconnect.

As he paid the bill for the Harbour View house, he presented the bill for the Jungle property just as a show and asked the clerk why the account was still active and the supply free from disconnection. The clerk stifled a laugh and said, 'But yu know how dat go, sir,' meaning that she knew that he knew that the thuggery in Jungle meant that water to the amount of $4 million could be used up and the gun would hinder anyone from the NWC venturing there to disconnect the supply.


Laying new piping under repaired roads


Half an hour was certainly not enough for me to get the 'full hundred' on NWC matters affecting the public, especially where many households islandwide did not have water supply during the Christmas holidays.

Mr Barnett was unable to present me with a maintenance schedule to change pipes islandwide, but in all fairness, he had only been contacted just a few hours before the formal interview on the day after New Year's Day. One shocker that came out was Mr Barnett's revelation when asked that about 10 per cent of NWC piping was installed during the asbestos regime of the 1970s.

The NWC president also confirmed that they are using the opportunity presented during the present road improvement on Hagley Park and Constant Spring roads and Mandela Highway to put in new piping and valves to replace the old infrastructure, which has been subject to regular breaks over the years.

Mr Barnett also told me that the big concern of seeming lack of coordination between the NWC and the National Works Agency (NWA) has been addressed, and the public should expect to see road repairs immediately after the NWC digs up the surface to lay new pipes or effect repairs to faulty valves.

An amount of $30 billion has been spent over the last five years in water-improvement projects, said the NWC president, who, unfortunately, was not able to detail the areas that got those upgrades. Neither was he able to tell me how many of the 450 water systems are operating at 100 per cent or peak. What is very obvious, though, is that too high a percentage of our water supplies produced and treated is going to waste either because the old system is creaky or thievery is the law in some lawless communities.

It was revealed in the interview that wastewater piping is laid in the middle of the roads so that whenever there is a problem with any part of the sewage main, it is the middle of the roads that will be dug up.

"The logic back then," according to Mr Barnett, "was that since all houses on both sides had to be connected, it was thought that the best place to lay the sewage pipes was in the middle of the road just a few feet under the surface."


God's special relationship with this pastor


"As a prophet, I must let this country know that I am hearing from God," said Bishop Rowan Edwards, who operates from the troubled communities that make up Spanish Town.

According to the pastor, he had earlier predicted that Jamaica would not see the level of murders as in 2017. Based on the new, highly technological eenie-meenie-minie-moe scale developed, apparently, in the most advanced labs across the globe, pastor Edwards had projected that Jamaica would see in 2018 'one thousand or less murders'.

Any 10th-grade student could hazard any of three guesses. The most unlikely one. The same as the year before. Or, more than the year before. Or, three, less than the year before. So the pastor lucked into less than and, of course, 'one thousand or less' is still a bit of hedging.

Prophecy, of course, is as perennial as the grass and, unfortunately, it is usually bought hook, line, and sinker by the captive flock whose members are not very big on the study of likely mathematical outcomes.

In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan was on a direct path to enter Jamaica at Kingston and exit via Trelawny or St James, Rev Miller claimed that it was his prayers that made the hurricane only skirt the south coast. Conveniently, Miller's God was unable to magic away the death of the 17 people that were killed in Jamaica by winds from the Category 4 cyclone.

According to Pastor Edwards, "God said Moses is as a friend and he spoke to Moses as if He was speaking to a man. God showed me a lot of things, especially in politics, and I am able to tell my congregation."

This is great for Pastor Edwards, and I would suggest to him, now knowing that God dabbles in politics, that he make himself available to the highest bidder from the JLP and the PNP.

Let's start the bidding at $5 million. And what is the most important matter that is being sought? Pastor, please tell us when the next elections will be held and the seat breakout when the ballots are finally counted. Since you are in direct dialogue with the big man, we want to know the exact date, too, and, while you are at it, give us the individual constituencies and the win/loss counts.

Since God will only tell you, please Pastor, tell us, nuh.

- Mark Wignall is a public affairs and political commentator. Email feedback to