– Minister Rodrigues says water will flow again with $2.8B investment
By Navendra Seoraj
THE coffers of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) “ran dry” under the leadership of the former APNU+AFC administration, but “water will flow again” said Minister within the Ministry of Housing and Water, Susan Rodrigues, who defended her ministry’s allocation of $2.8 billion for maintained and expanded water supply across the country.
The minister, in making her maiden presentation to the National Assembly during day two of the Budget 2020 debates, said the condition of GWI is a “travesty.”
“GWI is bankrupt… pipelines are porous, there was no maintenance, the system was left to decay… that is the legacy of Van West-Charles (former CEO of GWI),” said Rodrigues in response to Opposition Parliamentarian, Vinceroy Jordan, who spoke about GWI’s progress under Dr. Charles.
As her colleagues pounded the desk in acknowledgement of her presentation, Rodrigues continued to talk about the deficiencies at GWI, noting that in 2015 the utility company had 600 employees and today there are 1,300 employees with no corresponding benefit to justify, what she called, the “overstaffing.”
GWI, which was already at a financial disadvantage because of “poor management,” had encountered more financial problems because of the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has caused economic hardships across the world.
Minister Rodrigues said GWI saw a 14.1 per cent decline in revenue collection due mainly to failure of more than 90,000 of its customers to honour bill payment obligations.
Collection of revenue in the second quarter of 2020 totalled $1.193 billion, compared to $1.394 billion in the first quarter of 2020.
“This was a direct result of reduced interpersonal contact with customers, with the onset of COVID-19,” said the minister.
Even though the company took a hit, it expended over $2.8 billion to ensure continuous water supply, as the nation implemented COVID-19 containment and mitigation measures to combat the pandemic.
The sum expended, represents an average monthly operating and maintenance cost of $468.6 million, used for the procurement of chemicals, spares and management of the hinterland water supply system.
This “bump in the road” did not derail the work of the Ministry of Housing and Water, said Minister Rodrigues, adding that it is the ministry’s aim, amidst these trying times, to extend coverage and provision of potable water, especially to unserved areas.
“We will work towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number six, which speaks to access to clean water and sanitation for all, by 2030,” said the minister.
Heckling from the opposition side of the House did not stop Minister Rodrigues from committing to improve the quality of life for all Guyanese by increasing water security and extending it to coastal, urban and hinterland areas.
To this end, she reiterated that government has budgeted $2.8 billion to support the improvement and expansion of water supply infrastructure across the country.
This allocation, she said, provides for sustaining and improving access to potable water across coastal, urban and hinterland communities; and continuing the “reduction of non-revenue water programme”.
Special attention will be placed on the most vulnerable in society, senior citizens and indigenous people, said the minister, adding that they will have improved access to potable water at a time when the country is fighting COVID-19.
Government has already announced the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on potable water and the reinstatement of the water subsidy for pensioners.
But even as the country continues to make access to water affordable, revenue collection remains a major concern for the ministry, so Minister Rodrigues said emphasis will be placed on non-revenue water, collection efficiency and metered coverage.
To this end, government has budgeted $56.5 million for the procurement of smart meters for over 2,500 customers from La Parfaite Harmonie, Friendship, Providence, Mon Repos and Beterverwagting. Funds have also been budgeted for the installation of smart meters in Amelia’s Ward, Linden. This move, the minister said, will result in improved service and reduction in non-revenue water. It will also reduce water wastage and provide increased pressure for domestic use.
“In meetings with Van West, they complained about non-revenue water, but meters were not ordered by GWI for years, not a single meter to install for a new service, but they were complaining about non-revenue,” the minister lamented, amidst heckling from the opposition side.
But even as the ministry focuses on revenue collection, funds will be pumped into the improvement of water supply. And, in highlighting some of the proposed work, Minister Rodrigues said $113.3 million was budgeted for the procurement of pipes to replace aged and incrusted mains located between Vlissengen to Cummings Street.
This project is expected to improve water quality, reduce losses and improve the level of service provided to over 200,000 persons.
A further 40,000 residents are expected to benefit from improved service through the upgrade of a transmission, which runs from Vlissengen Road to Lamaha Street. Government has budget $25 million for this project.
Another $25 million was budgeted for the installation of a transmission line between the 1763 Monument and Cemetery Road. This project is expected to benefit more than 80,000 residents.
Over 20,000 residents of East Canjie and Fort Ordinance, Region Six, are expected to benefit from the installation of fire hydrants to increase the firefighting capacity in housing areas.
Government has also budgeted $50 million for the installation of raw water intake line to the Bartica Water Treatment Plant. This project will increase access and improve service delivery to more than 7,000 residents.
Minister Rodrigues said government has also budgeted $120 million for the hinterland water supply programme. Funds will go towards the installation of mains, pump stations and new services in Port Kaituma, Mabaruma and Santa Rosa. This initiative will benefit 9,300 persons, said the minister.
A further $10 million was budgeted for the procurement of materials for in-house drilling, construction of water distribution networks and expansion in villages including Chuing Mouth, Itabac, Shea and Shulinab. Chuing Mouth, the minister said, has been without water for two years, but through this project, water will flow again in the village.
“You see Mr. Speaker we tried our best in this emergency budget to cover Regions One, Three, Four, Seven and Nine…to reach all citizens, regardless of where they live or their political affiliation…under the PPP/C administration, every Guyanese will benefit,” said Minister Rodrigues.