Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Sue them - NWC must take both CHEC and NWA to court

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:17 AM

“It’s my theory, based on my years of work on the costly rock sewers, that clean water leads to a healthier population.”

Tyrion Lannister (a.k.a. ‘The Imp’), formerly ‘Hand’ (Prime Minister/Chief Adviser) to Queen Daenerys Targaryen (a.k.a. ‘Mother of Dragons’) and then to King Bran The Broken (a.k.a. ‘The Three-eyed Raven’) whilst chairing his first Cabinet meeting after a forth-century coup at Westeros.

 

Those of you living in Siberia these past five years, ask Dr Gaggle.

So, even a fantasy world has known this for 2,000 years.

In Jamaica, our colonial masters, recognising this abiding truth, completed the Rio Cobre Dam in 1876. That dam was to provide water to 30,000 of Jamaica’s 282,300 acres, including Spanish Town.

In 1927, Hermitage Dam, with a capacity of 500 million gallons, was completed to “service” Kingston and St Andrew’s growth and spread of many suburbs over the preceding 100 years. In 1914, Kingston’s population was 57,000. In 1935, Denham Town alone housed 3,000. By 2001, Kingston’s population was 96,000 and St Andrew’s 555,000. The combined population at December 31, 2018, was 670,000.

But the colonial master made further investment in the Imp’s theory in 1946 by constructing Mona Dam, designed to store 700 million gallons of water and also serve Kingston and St Andrew. No further major catchments were constructed, but in 1957, the Brits did pay for the Roaring River Treatment Plant in Westmoreland, with a capacity of three million gallons per day and Logwood Treatment Plant (Hanover – capacity 3.2 million gallons per day).

As Jamaica bolted from British rule, White River Treatment Plant (St Mary – 1.1 million gallons per day) and Hayes Deepwell pumping station (Clarendon – capacity two million gallons per day) were built in 1962.

There has been some fiddling with Jamaica’s water-delivery systems since Independence, including two wells at Springfield (1969 – 1.2 million gallons per day and 1982 – 1.7 million gallons per day); Tulloch Springs and Yallahs pipelines; Grants Level, Martha Brae and Greater Mandeville treatment plants; Ferry and Malvern/Munroe pumping stations.

PRAYER AND CRYSTAL BALL READING

Since 1946, no major storage facility or system of water harvesting has been constructed. Today, storage levels at Hermitage (34 per cent) and Mona (26 per cent) have dived below critical.

On Tuesday, the National Water Commission announced that if it didn’t rain by weekend (as forecast by the Met Office), we’re doomed. So government water policy is now driven by prayer and crystal ball reading. After. Seventy. Years!

Jamaica’s population in 1943 was 1.2 million. It’s three million today. What’ve we been thinking? Why have we paid water ministers since Woppy kill Philup?

On May 14, the PM combated water woes with a grand announcement. As. Usual. A new water treatment plant is to be built at Rio Cobre. When? Soon after the next election? “Negotiations” (whatever the granny gungus natty those are) are projected for completion in 45 days.

DWL!

After all that, water supply is projected to increase by 20 per cent. Yawn! Population has increased by more than 200 per cent!

TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

In an unrelated topic, you’ll have heard the racist proverb “Give the Arab an inch and he’ll take a mile”? Again, ap ropos of nothing, its origins are clouded in mystery since it was Israelis who were given several inches of (British occupied) Palestinian property. But what do I know?

Anyhoooo, this was brought to mind when the Old Ball and Chain insisted on taking over today’s column on water.

“But,” I complained. “I’ve given you Tuesday whenever you want to rant.”

“This is too important for a Tuesday,” she instructed.

“But you know I consider Tuesdays more important than Sundays,” I weakly resisted.

It didn’t work. So, give the Finn an inch……..

Old BC: Old Grey Balls doesn’t even know what it’s like to have to get up before 5 a.m. to first pray for an hour or two of water and then have to do EVERYTHING in a cramped time before it disappears again. When is government going to get its priorities right? The most essential item to good health is water. It’s necessary for hydration and hygiene.

Old GB: You’ve been watching Game of Thrones in secret?

Old BC: Oh, shut up! I’m talking about something important.

Old GB: Aha! You HAVE been watching. “IMP….ortant” Get it? Hehehe.

Old BC (eyes rolling): For Pete’s sake! Money is allocated to a new parliamentary building instead of providing water for the people paying for the building. Every year, 60 per cent of the precious commodity is wasted through broken pipes. We must survive on 40 per cent, but I bet parliamentarians have access to as much water as they wish. Surely, water for all is more important than a state-of-the-art parliamentary building? If the minister of health (and wellness?) is truly concerned about the nation’s health, he’d be insisting on that. Water should be the number one national priority.

Old GB: But isn’t that why there’s a National Water Commission (NWC)?

Old BC: NWC management is a worse joke than your puns. It needs upgrading. NWC must employ the best engineers and managers. Management must be given authority to take control. All contractors and staff must be held accountable. It cannot be that a pipeline needs to be repaired three times in three months. Think carefully. We could repair 300 lines instead of 100 with the same funds if it were done properly the first time. It cannot be that staff can’t be fired if they aren’t performing. It cannot be that schools have to close for lack of water.

If we don’t take it seriously, one morning we’ll wake up and there won’t be a teaspoon of water in the damn dams. I suppose by then, the politicians would’ve flown the dry rock.

Sigh. Speaking of management, didn’t the NWC know the recent maze of roadworks were upcoming? What was the NWC’s plan to protect its pipelines during these rush-to-election “repairs” that did more damage to citizens’ water supplies than improvement to roads?

Obviously none. As. Usual. Now that NWC pipelines are left in tatters, the NWC’s belated response is to file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against CHEC. Since that’s where we are, why sue only CHEC? The Gleaner reports that the National Works Agency’s (NWA) E.G. Hunter “made it clear that his organisation bore no liability for the costly repeat errors. He said the projects being undertaken arose from a contract between Government and CHEC”.

Really? So, if I send a hitman, I avoid any legal process by quoting Shaggy? What’s the NWC’s legal strategy?

Who is the NWA? Why has it been issuing notices; erecting signs; answering media queries, and, generally, carrying on as if it’s in charge of these roadworks? The NWA website proudly proclaims “in October 1999, Government endorsed the establishment of the National Works Agency and accorded it Executive Agency status on April 1, 2001.

The NWA’s chief objectives were:

1. Promotion of improved maintenance of the main road network by use of modern management practices and cost-effective techniques.

2. Commercialisation of the technical services of the Ministry of Transport and Works.”

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE TO ME FOR ROADWORKS? CHEC? Or NWA?

Now I ask: who is CHEC? Two companies are registered. China Harbour Engineering Company Limited is an overseas company with no shareholder information registered here and directors all with China addresses. China Harbour Engineering JAMAICA Limited is locally incorporated with registered address ‘St Lucia Avenue, Cross Roads’ and zero share capital. Who signed the contract? If CHEC Jamaica signed, was a performance guarantee obtained from CHEC China? What are the NWC’s chances of collecting a dime of any judgment from either after decades in court?

I expect the NWC to pressure BOTH CHEC and the NWA with lawsuits. Make no mistake, the NWC won’t be absorbing any losses. We’ll pay via increased water bills. So, in suing, the NWC acts for us. You might say we pay for the NWA also. Maybe but the ultimate strategy is to make CHEC pay. If the NWC sues CHEC alone, it could come up empty. If it sues the NWA, that entity might claim indemnity against CHEC. Unlike the NWC, the NWA has ongoing contracts with CHEC from which fruits of any judgment can be extracted more pragmatically than the NWC trying cumbersome garnishee proceedings.

On the law, I don’t care who contracted with whom. CHEC appears primarily liable for trespass to NWC’s infrastructure and negligence causing damage. But it’s the NWA’s works. Even if the NWA/CHEC (or GOJ/CHEC) contract says CHEC isn’t GOJ/NWA’s agent, circumstances could exist which make the NWA also liable to the NWC. On our behalf, the NWC should be exploring these possibilities and pressuring both.

The NWC has neglected its obligations to us for decades. It can start trying to make up for this. WE must insist that the NWC uses, every available legal strategy to ensure WE don’t have to pay for someone else’s carelessness.

Peace and love!

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com