Letter: Potable water is a human right

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Dear Sir:

Is our economy prudently managed? Twenty years ago the published estimated construction cost of the DESALCOTT desalination facility was US$200 million, which today is TT$1.35 billion. On Wednesday 8th May, before Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee, Hon. Minister of Public Utilities Le Hunte appeared, seeking a TT$200 million budgetary variation for expenses, including outstanding payments to DESALCOTT.

Minister Le Hunte stated that we spent TT$680 million for desalinated water last year but omitted the total spent in the past 20 years? Could we have invested some of that money more wisely in infrastructure or maintenance? What is being done now to minimize the dependence on these lucrative desalination companies, DESALCOTT and newly formed Seven Seas Water? Is water costs draining our treasury?

According to today’s DESALCOTT website, a twenty-year water supply contract was signed with WASA in 1999. It means DESALCOTT’s contract expires in 2019. Minister Le Hunte stated before the Finance Committee that it expires in 2036, “because of an amendment made several years ago”.

Did Minister Le Hunte make this “amendment” to renew the DESALCOTT contract prematurely, and if not who did? Did a former Minister, (perhaps Ganga Singh), renew the contract before the due time and if so why? To whose benefit and for what reason would the multi-billion dollar contract be amended and extended before its expiration? Bearing in mind that there is a public perception and well-recorded history that large contracts often involve large kickbacks, this is an important question that ought to be asked by an attentive Parliament.

According to the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) Report titled “Review of the State of the Water and Sewerage Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, 2010 to 2015” in 2015 alone, WASA operated with a loss of TT$2.88 billion… and up to 24 percent of its operating expenses were spent to purchase privatised water. This 2015 operating loss is more than the combined national budgets of the two CARICOM islands of Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis for that year. Is mismanagement and/or corruption drowning our islands?

Why no transparency, no public participation, no consultation? There are multiple ways that we can avert this multi-billion dollar leakage to lucrative water companies whose contracts were signed and are (it appears) being renewed prematurely and … in secret?

Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) appeals to the Prime Minister and to his diligent cabinet to hold public consultations on the future of our diminishing primary resources, especially water. We must face the outrageousness of privatised water together. While northern range quarries are jeopardizing 90 percent of our naturally harvested potable water supply, our leaders have a duty of care to not be silent or appear to be consenting.

Mrs Bissessar has been silent on this threat and has not said what she intends to do if reelected. Will her UNC Ganga Singh further privatize water? Why this ominous silence?

What is PM Rowley’s position on privatised water? What is his national plan? We respectfully remind our PM that potable water is not a luxury but a human right.

Gary Aboud

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