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Water plan a no-go

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM
As drought conditions continue to affect the Corporate Area, the Mona Reservoir in St Andrew exhibits diminished levels yesterday. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

A MAJOR plank in the Government's drought-mitigation efforts has collapsed, leaving the National Water Commission (NWC) under more pressure to provide even short-term relief to parched Jamaicans.

Legal challenges have put paid to the Government's plan to borrow almost $500 million from the National Housing Trust (NHT) to finance the ambitious drought-mitigation programme.

With most of the island facing serious drought conditions and the NWC warning that the situation would become worse before it gets better, Water Minister Horace Chang late last year announced the plan to get a $477-million interest-bearing loan from the NHT to address some of the problems.

"I am anticipating that the agreement will be signed by next week," Chang told The Gleaner on December 29.

That expression of confidence came despite clear indications from the chairman of the NHT, Howard Mitchell, that he was opposed to the deal.

"My personal view is that the National Housing Trust Act is very specific about what must be done with the funds and, as such, I think it should stay within the terms of the act. No decision has been made by anybody to lend money to the National Water Commission," Mitchell said

"A request was made, which is under consideration but, in the process of that consideration, legal advice has been sought," added the NHT chairman.

However, Chang was adamant. "We have agreed in principle but we are still sorting out some knotty legal issues," he had said.

Yesterday, Information Minister Daryl Vaz indicated that, in the final analysis, Mitchell was right.

"Because of legal impediments, (the loan deal) was not done and that has caused a major shift in how we had wanted to address the drought situation," Vaz told the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House.

"Minister Chang will give some information on that and I think they are in the final stage of devising new measures," added Vaz.

The water minister had previously indicated that, the $477 million from the NHT would allow the NWC to spend $102 million over six months trucking water to households.

In addition, $142 million was to be spent for well development, $17 million for public education and awareness, and $18 million for operation and maintenance.

That would amount to $279 million of the money borrowed from the trust.

Another $195.1 million was to be turned over to the Local Government division in the Office of the Prime Minister to assist in the trucking of water islandwide.

Of that amount, $155.1 million was to be spent on trucking water, with $40 million to be spent on acquiring 20 new trucks.

The remaining $3 million was to be spent on the black tank programme, intended to assist householders with storage capacity.

On Tuesday, the NWC announced that the water crisis was threatening to get even worse as the continued absence of rain was causing the inflows into the most critical water supply systems to dwindle even further.

The NWC warned its customers to brace for scheduled and unscheduled water lock-offs.

There was some rainfall in sections of the island yesterday, but not enough to make a major difference.