PUBLIC UTILITIES Minister Robert Le Hunte on Monday pointed out an anachronism that requires urgent attention. According to the minister, the penalties for breach of the current water restrictions – which are needed because reservoir levels have fallen dangerously beneath target levels – are low. So low, in fact, it is cheaper to flout the law than pay for a fete ticket. That’s ludicrous.
We do not begrudge fete promoters the chance to earn a decent buck. Nor do we sanctimoniously castigate revellers for having fun and getting wet. Wet fetes are refreshing, almost religious things: there are devotees who live for that moment of cooling, catharsis, and cleansing after a marathon party.
And yet the signal sent is too damaging to ignore. For the State to turn a blind eye is to encourage a culture of impunity, one in which profiteers simply incorporate breaches of the law in their overall business plans. That may sit well with some already, but it should not. And it should not be encouraged to spread, flagrantly, to something as culturally significant as our Carnival.
But slapping wet fetes on the wrist is also bad because it sends mixed signals with regard to water conservation. On the one hand, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is trying to foster a culture of responsibility in light of the potential for an extreme dry season. On the other hand, the authorities can only levy a penalty that does little to deter, and that is so low it actually makes enforcement of the law a waste of time and resources.
At the root of the problem is the WASA Act of 1965. This law was passed only three years after our independence, at a time when colonial norms still lingered strongly in our culture. The law was last amended in 1994 to regulate the compulsory purchase of land by WASA and the State. But that was 26 years ago.
The act still has sections such as section 83 which states any offence committed receives a penalty of only $750 on summary conviction and, if applicable, a fine of just $75 per day in the case of a continuing offence. Acting WASA CEO Alan Poon King on Monday reported the act’s penalties generally range from $75 to $225 depending on the nature of the breach.
Minister Le Hunte proposed a kind of self-regulation on the part of the population. “Let us all work together to try and change and educate,” he said. The problem with that is the State last year charged about 30-40 people with wasting water. It seems unfair, if not arbitrary, to haul these individuals before the court, while turning a blind eye to others, hoping for the best.
Let wet fetes apply for special conditional exemptions from WASA under section 9(2) of the act. Or amend the law.