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Water ministry working to resurrect Rapid Response Unit - Hayles

Published:Friday | June 21, 2013 | 12:00 AM

STATE MINISTER for water, land, environment and climate change, Ian Hayles, has said his ministry is working feverishly to resurrect the Rapid Response Unit which was "in the grave" under the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration.

Accusing the JLP of shutting down the unit, Hayles told his parliamentary colleagues that several trucks from the state-owned entity were given to other Government agencies, "leaving the employees and customers in limbo. In fact, of the 100 trucks belonging to the Rapid Response Unit, a mere 26 are currently operational."

In his contribution on Tuesday to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament, Hayles argued that the poor decision to 'shell' the unit was brought into sharp focus earlier this year when the country, particularly farmers, experienced one of the worst droughts in recent memory. "Now, even though we've had some rain recently, for some of those farmers, it's not over yet. That experience reminded us why we had a Rapid Response Unit in the first place," Hayles added.

The Rapid Response Unit was created as an emergency facility to provide water on a temporary basis to communities affected by severe drought.

Discussing plans to transform the unit this year, Hayles said he would be leading a team to develop an effective and strategic business plan for rapid response. "Too long this unit has operated 'willy-nilly', and we need to focus, and redirect the activities so that the unit serves Jamaica, rather than being a burden to the taxpayers," he said.

cost-cutting plan

The state minister also shared plans with his colleagues to cut cost at the cash-strapped entity. "One area [where] we can cut costs immediately, is in fuel for water delivery. By relocating loading bays closer to our drought-stricken customers, we will be able to save some 30-40 per cent on what we currently pay for fuel in the course of a year," he said.

Hayles pointed out that the National Water Commission spent more than $150 million annually with private haulage contractors to truck water to people experiencing drought and other emergencies. "That is an enormous burden when you consider we have a unit equipped and staffed to conduct those activities," the junior minister noted.

He said the Rapid Response Unit would sign a memorandum of understanding with the NWC, for the unit to be the first in line to truck water for the commission.