Sat | Nov 17, 2018

No more 'freeness'! - NWC says amnesty a thing of the past

Published:Saturday | May 19, 2018 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
President of the National Water Commission, Mark Barnett.

If delinquent National Water Commission (NWC) customers were entertaining the thought of another amnesty to clear their outstanding bills, the agency's president, Mark Barnett, said "it's simply not on".

"We have done enough. We have given enough amnesty. [But] citizens or customers who benefited from that amnesty don't uphold their commitment," Barnett asserted, adding that not even the service charge was being paid.

He noted that in other countries, people were obliged to pay for their utilities. "Why not in Jamaica?" he asked.

"Every single person, rich or poor [must pay their bills], and if you are so poor, there are mechanisms in place through government action such as the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education [to assist]," the NWC head declared yesterday at a press conference in New Kingston.

He said that the NWC had offered concessions to pensioners and some entities. "It is not an open-floodgate situation, but there are able-bodied people who ... spend their money to do other things that are not significant to their well-being. We believe that that 'freeness' approach will not continue," declared Barnett.

With a massive $26 billion owed by customers, Barnett also disclosed that the commission was in discussion with several entities that have expressed an interest in purchasing the outstanding receivables.

"We are not only saying it to the public, we are pursuing it. We recognise that there are legal issues that have to be worked out, but, rest assured, this management is serious about getting at those receivables," Barnett told journalists. "We are going to try various strategies to collect the funds because a utility cannot survive without a constant stream of revenues," he said.

The NWC president said that the agency faced its biggest challenge in collecting revenue for water from persons living in inner-city communities. According to Barnett, of a population of 330,000 in inner-city communities in Kingston and St Andrew, only 33,000 accounts are registered on the NWC's database. He said that a significant number of these accounts do not pay for the commodity.

To tackle the problem, Barnett said that the agency would be installing meters in these areas and was aiming for 100 per cent metering of residents.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com