The elephant in the room

WHAT TO DO with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA)?

Next month, if all goes to plan, Cabinet will get a report from a committee that will make suggestions.

But while we await the findings – due by November 30, according to the timeline set out by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the budget last week – it seems plain there is already a desire on the part of the Government to raise water rates.

However, whether such an increase can or should occur in the current circumstances is hardly crystal clear.

Mr Imbert was careful not to spell out an increase in his budget presentation, but he definitely opened the door to the possibility.

“We will take such decisions, including a tariff review, which are necessary for WASA to raise the water supply,” he said.

What the Finance Minister implied, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales made plain on Monday.

“Let us as a matter of priority address this elephant in the room,” Mr Gonzales said as he announced the triggering of “the legal mechanism for a rate review.”

That review is normally carried out by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC), a statutory body set up in 2000 to ensure utilities comply with standards.

Though Mr Gonzales saw the issue as part of the “red flashing light” of WASA woes, it is unclear how long it might take the RIC to do such a review. Nor what the outcome might be.

Still, Mr Gonzales’s assurance that the Government would help spread the burden was a telling indication of the Cabinet’s ideal scenario in the months ahead.

So much so that, in the wake of both Mr Imbert’s and Mr Gonzales’s statements, Caroni Central MP Arnold Ram questioned whether the Government might observe the RIC’s jurisdiction at all. Perhaps pointedly, neither Mr Imbert nor Mr Gonzales mentioned the RIC by name.

Mr Ram, also speaking in the budget debate on Monday, said Government cannot instruct the RIC to make changes to rates and signalled the Opposition’s intention to resist any such move.

“We will do what is necessary,” the Caroni Central MP said, echoing Mr Imbert’s own pronouncements.

Though Mr Gonzales accused the last UNC-led administration of “destructive policies” which saddled the Treasury with a monthly US$7 million bill for desalinated water, and despite all the sabre-rattling this week, no government has been able to address the fact that half the population still does not have a round-the-clock water supply. That’s been the case for decades.

In fact, by Mr Gonzales’s own admission, water rates are “low” at $3 a day – but WASA has no way of measuring the water it actually provides to households.

Those gaps constitute the real elephant in the room.


"The elephant in the room"

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