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Sectoral Debate: Chang wants NWC in private hands and NHT out of housing construction

Published:Thursday | May 7, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton

An opposition member of parliament is suggesting privatising the National Water Commission (NWC) and getting the National Housing Trust (NHT) out of the business of constructing houses.

"It may be time to think anew in both water and housing," said Dr Horace Chang, who speaks for the parliamentary Opposition on both areas, as he contributed the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

"Water is not only to provide an essential utility for growth and development, to provide potable water to our people, and irrigation to our farmers, but in the modern world, where climate change has become an entirely new problem, we may have to look at an entirely new approach to managing water resources as water becomes a valuable commodity," Chang said.

He told legislators that efforts made thus far in both sectors have been insufficient in filling both the housing gap and providing water for Jamaicans, and that the time has come for new thinking.

"I am trying to show new directions that a Labour Party administration will be seeking to introduce when elected as Government and stimulate some new thinking," Chang said.

In the housing sector, the North West St James member of parliament, who is a former minister of water and housing, said there were too many agencies involved in the sector.

"We need an agency - maybe the Housing Agency of Jamaica with a new name - that focuses on development, which would be responsible for all the development, including [the National] Housing Trust. The Housing Trust should get out of construction and deal with financing," Chang said.


Private-public partnerships


As it relates to water, Chang said that some level of privatisation should be considered, but was quick to say that "it does not involve a wholesale privatisation or selling out (of) the water company".

"A private-public partnership could change the way we operate," Chang said, while adding "the private sector will be able, through the stock market, to owe significant amounts of shares up to 49 per cent. The majority must remain in public hands so we can determine public policy for a very critical utility which is essential to sustainable growth and development.

"If you go the route of the stock market with that level of privatisation, you will begin to experience stability of its management, based on technical competence," he argued.

He said that if the NWC is able to reduce the amount of non-revenue water it produces, the entity could easily be partially privatised.

Meanwhile, in housing, Chang said that the Housing Agency should be tasked as an agency that does research on developing housing solutions for all income levels in the society, while at the same time, managing private-public partnerships.