Rapid Response fleet to double
GOV'T BOOSTS WATER-TRUCKING SERVICE AS 2015 DROUGHT EXPECTED TO BE WORSE THAN LAST YEAR'S
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
With meteoro-logists forecasting that 2015 could be one of the driest years on record, the water ministry is now mulling over the possibility of adding new life to the Rapid Response Unit, through the injection of $56.3 million to double its fleet.
The ministry plans to repair 30 trucks by the end of March to allow the Rapid Response to be able to provide potable and irrigation water to more communities, with a view to improve health and sanitation as well as agricultural productivity.
"Due to climate change and the drought, we want to ensure that, at all times, we have 50 trucks in operation that can truck water across the country," Ian Hayles, the country's junior water minister, told The Gleaner.
"This drought that is coming up will be worse than the last one, based on the predictions thus far," Hayles said.
Based on the information provided to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) by the National Water Commission (NWC), the water ministry would spend $39.3 million repairing 22 short trucks and $17 million repairing eight trailers.
The NWC would repair the trucks and recoup its investment through the use of the Rapid Response trucks.
Tyres would account for the lion's share of the cost - $15.27 million. Labour is projected at $13.5 million, and a category designated as 'other costs' would consume $16.87 million of the budget. Hose, pumps and batteries would cost a combined $10.6 million, the estimates suggest.
But even as the Government contemplates revving up its water-trucking capacity, it has said mechanical issues could thwart the efforts. The document sent to Parliament said "persistent problems previously encountered with the gearboxes in these units" is an area of immediate concern.
Hayles yesterday told The Gleaner that tracking devices are to be installed on the trucks to account for their location at any point in time.
"We are also looking at subcontracting the maintenance of these units. We are not going to wait until they break down before we seek to maintain them," Hayles said.
The junior minister said Rapid Response has made more than $30 million in profit thus far this fiscal year, and has stressed that with a new business plan being put in place, it is not likely that the entity will become a strain on the Budget.
"NWC has spent close to $300 million trucking water … . What we are doing with Rapid is trying to create an atmosphere where Rapid has the first right of refusal to truck water anywhere across the country. NWC can't go out and get a private contractor … . It is keeping that $300 million in house under Rapid to allow it to grow its profit margin," the minister said.
COUNCILS BETTER OPTION
Dr Horace Chang, a member of the PAAC, and the man who speaks for the parliamentary Opposition on water, said while he has no objection to the NWC fixing the trucks, he thinks it is bad policy for central government to be involved in the trucking of water.
"We think the trucks should be transferred to the parish councils. Trucking of water is better handled at that level than at a central level," said Chang, who added that the Government should consider giving three trucks each to the country's 14 municipal authorities.
The Rapid Response Unit was established in 1999 as an emergency facility to provide water on a temporary basis to communities affected by water-supply problems, severe drought and other natural disasters. It was merged with Rural Water Limited last year to improve service to rural Jamaica.