At first glance, the task facing the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to look into the Water and Sewerage Authority’s (WASA) operations and come up with a comprehensive plan to improve the country’s water supply might seem monumental.
The four-member committee is headed by Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales—one of the newcomers in the Dr Keith Rowley administration—but includes experienced Cabinet members in Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles, Energy Minister Franklin Khan and Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox.
Given the relatively short three-month time frame they have been given, delivering on such a weighty mandate might seem challenging. But the reality is that there have been quite a few studies done on WASA throughout its 55-year history that can be the foundation for their review of the country’s woeful water supply situation.
Perhaps they need to look no further than a report of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which examined WASA’s Audited Financial Statements for the financial years 2008 to 2013.
Little has changed since the years covered in that report, which lays out much of what is already known about WASA, arguably the worst performing of the country’s public utilities. Its customers regularly endure the pain of its operational inefficiencies, as it produces approximately 220 million gallons of water a day but loses about half of it through leaks across its ageing pipeline network.
However, because of its desperate financial situation, WASA cannot afford to replace all its aged infrastructure which are well over 40 years when their useful life is just 25 years.
WASA, which survives on government subventions, is currently scrambling for funds to repay two multi-billion loans taken in 2011 and 2013 to fund projects that have not yet been completed.
Even worse news is that most of its operating expenditure goes to its wage bill for a bloated workforce of approximately 5,100 employees—about 13 workers per thousand connections.
All that ails WASA was well covered in the PAC report, which also contained a list of recommendations for revival of an entity that has been mired in inefficiency and waste for much of its existence. This saves the sub-committee the task of starting from square one.
Enough reports and recommendations have been done on WASA dating back decades and the population has no more appetite for an exercise which merely duplicates those efforts and yields no measurable results over the short to medium term.
There have been empty promises about water for all and a failed attempt at privatisation and the reality of most of the country still enduring water shortages and breakdowns.
That is why it is so important, three months from now, for the committee to hand in a cost-effective plan for a lean and efficient operation that can be quickly implemented.
Some painful decisions will have to be made but that is unavoidable and will probably pale in comparison to the pain WASA has been inflicting on its customers for years.