By Claude Mill, Staff Reporter
Harry Douglas (left), Minister of State in the Ministry of Water and Housing, converses with Basil Hernandez, Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority, during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on water quality management yesterday at the Terra Nova Hotel, St. Andrew.
- Rudolph Brown/Staff Photographer
THE NATIONAL Water Commission (NWC) is turning up the pressure on delinquent account holders by seeking court authorisation to resell their houses in a bid to recoup a significant portion of the $3 billion owed to the agency by customers.
"A list with the names of 44 people who have been sued, and who failed to
show up for court, was submitted to the Commissioner of Police Francis Forbes
yesterday. The names come from areas which range from all sectors of society,
from Norbrook in St. Andrew to Smith Lane in downtown Kingston," said Minister
of State in the Ministry of Water and Housing, Harry Douglas.
"There is a second list with individuals from a large tourist town that is
booming, where there are 16 illegal connections, including hotels, business
complexes, and other business interests. A number of them have simply bypassed
the system. Some of them have made arrangements, and they are paying now."
THIRD LIST TO COME
Mr. Douglas said there is a third list with names of another 69 customers, including some from the downtown Kingston business district, who have upcoming court dates, and who owe money on their accounts ranging from $6,000 to $261,000.
"We need the money so we can put in new infrastructure. Look at a community like Norbrook, if you fix a leak in the morning, it is leaking by the same evening because the pipes are corroded, and we need new infrastructure to facilitate those persons who are paying and those who want water," Minister Douglas said.
Gawaine Forbes, the general manager of the legal department at the NWC, explained
that the company was trying to increase its cash flow by liquidating assets
of delinquent customers; however, no houses have been sold yet.
"We are bringing them before the court for arrears, and continue the drive to get their houses sold. The law allows you to petition the court for an order to sell. The difficulty we're having though is that the houses are often in areas where angels do not tread, and it is difficult to get valuations," he said.
"Right now, we are trying to get the courts to use some other valuations, for instance, ones at the Land Valuation Department. In the meantime, the police have pledged to support us by having the warrants for those who have failed to appear before the court, executed. The police have also promised to promulgate force orders which advise that stealing water is an offence, and to lend assistance to the NWC."In the meantime, amendments to the NWC Act, which will see an increase in fines from $1,000 to between $250,000 and $500,000, are to go before the Senate after being passed in the Lower House on Tuesday of this week.
"We have to collect this money. Right now, there are plans to build eight
stations from Negril to Port Maria at a cost of $1.5 billion, and we hope
to sign the contract soon so that we can best serve the water needs of the
public," Minister Douglas said.