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THE BIG INTERVIEW – Kellman outlines water plan

Tony Best

THE BIG INTERVIEW – Kellman outlines water plan

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In this week’s Big Interview, the NATION’S North American correspondent Tony Best speaks to Minister of the Environment, Water Resources Management and Drainage Denis Kellman, on key issues facing his ministry and the solutions he envisages. Kellman was in New York last week to deliver Caricom’s statement to the 19th Commission On Sustainable Development at the United Nations.
Q: What are you hoping would emerge from the UN meeting?
Kellman: We want a plan for sustainable production and sustainable consumption. We are also hoping to be able to deal with all of the waste matters. Actually, we don’t see it as waste anymore. We view it as raw material and therefore the world would be able to increase production and in the process eradicate poverty.
Q: What are your ministry’s priorities?
Kellman: We are moving towards a green economy and are seeking to create some synergies between the ministry and the Ministries of Agriculture, Public Works, Tourism and Housing. We are trying to ensure we are maintaining our status in the world. We are moving towards a situation in which there is nothing called garbage in Barbados. It is a raw material. We are doing that to ensure that we recycle and reuse waste.
We are looking to see how all of the open areas can look like Bay Street and looking at utilizing the gullies to plant fruit trees and nurseries, etcetera. We want the highways to look like Barbados, someplace to which someone would wish to come.
In terms of the Water Authority, we are ensuring that we can extend the water service right across Barbados so that anyone who wishes to develop their land they would have access to water and ensure we have the capacity for all industries that would like to settle in Barbados.
Q: What are your plans for the water service?
Kellman: We are not utilizing all of the contracted water. We are using only 50 per cent. What this means is that we have to lay the mains. We still have a surplus we can use. There is a company that is interested in supplying water to the Barbados Water Authority. We are looking at all of these possibilities. On top of that we are looking to replace mains. We have a lot of unaccountable water so we want to be able to account for it. Instead of the water going into the earth, we want to supply it to consumers.
Q: What’s the projected cost of this extensive water development plan?
Kellman: In the end it may cost us between $150 million and $200 million.
Q: What’s the start date?
Kellman: We are expecting it to begin this year. We are just awaiting logistics which we have to put in place.
Q: Barbadians are crying out that water rates are too high. So what would all of this mean to the average person?
Kellman: Well, they might be (right) when you consider that we have a system with (old) water meters. You have old water mains and all of those things; you can understand and they are justified in saying that. That’s why we are moving to correct the problem.
Q: Where will the money come from to finance the plan?
Kellman: We have already borrowed the money. We have borrowed it from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). We already have a commitment and we just have to sign off on it. Then, there is additional financing we are dealing with at the present. We have already sourced the funds.
Q: How are you planning to undertake this massive exercise?
Kellman: It’s going to be a combination of the public and private sectors in Barbados. It is something we are going to be speaking about with the unions to ensure they are on board because you would appreciate we have a social contract. We are not moving to lay off anybody. We are moving to expand the service.
Q: What about the collection of outstanding debts owed to the Authority?
Kellman: First, we have to find out if they are justified or not and that’s what we are dealing with now, to see whether those charges were correct. You may recall that back in 2005 or so, $150 million was raised to fix water mains but all I can say is that the mains were not repaired and it is clear to me that money which should have been used for capital expenditure was used for revenue expenditure.
What we have to do is to ensure that we don’t repeat that situation. We recognize that we have a problem to deal with and we are moving to address it. It is going to be very important for Barbados to ensure that mains are expanded and that people get a proper supply of water.
Q: Will you be in charge as minister under this project? Dr [Denis] Lowe is back to work and there was a cartoon in the Nation that suggested that the ministry has two ministers sitting in the same chair.
Kellman: What I would never do is to prejudge my Prime Minister. That is a decision for him. Nobody should ever try to prejudge the Prime Minister
Q: That response is as diplomatic as one can get, isn’t it?
Kellman: Right now as it stands I am the minister and I can’t say what will happen tomorrow. It would be wrong for me to say that I would remain in that position because if I do, I would be prejudging my Prime Minister. I saw an article (in THE NATION) saying there are two ministers of the Environment and, as you know, that cannot be possible.
Q: So you are the Minister of the Environment?
Kellman: As it stands right now, I am. But I cannot tell you what I will be tomorrow because I will not prejudge the Prime Minister. Nobody knows what ministry they will hold apart from the Prime Minister. All of us serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. I don’t understand why people who know better should be pretending they don’t know better. No-one knows when we will be changed. We do not know.
Q: What about the Sanitation Services Authority?
Kellman: There are some extensive plans for that too as well. We have to put it in a state that all of the problems we used to have, which we inherited, would be resolved. For instance, Sandy Lane (Hotel) cannot sell any lots because of the problem we inherited. We have to ensure that we manage Sanitation and do those things that they (Sandy Lane) can go ahead and create $1 billion in investment for Barbados.
Sandy Lane is downwind from the landfill [at Mangrove] and they have said they can’t sell the lots until they are assured that certain smells emanating from the landfill are corrected. We have to ensure that we do all of the necessary things to eliminate the problem.
Q: What about the issue of drainage? We hear a lot of complaints after heavy rains.
Kellman: We have to map the wells and do a study on the drainage. We then have to reach a decision on how we are going to link them. Before we can take a step we have to find out what we have to work with and look at the deficiencies. We are going to begin to do a lot more damning and channel water into the old quarries to stop the water from going into certain areas. We have to slow down the pace of the water getting into certain areas.
One of the things I have observed is that construction of the roads has changed and we need to look at that. Previously, there used to be a gutter at each side of the road. Now it seems as if we are having flat roads without gutters with the water settling on the road, which is self-defeating. We will have to go back to the drawing board. There must be closer relationship between the Drainage Unit and the Ministry of Public Works. We have to work together and find a solution.
Q: The Prime Minister seems to be “under the gun”, if you will, from some people who want to hear more from him. What piece of advice, if any, did you give to Mr Stuart on this matter?
Kellman: The truth is that people keep forgetting we have a Prime Minister who is very experienced. He is no new kid on the block. He has been around since the 1970s, like me. We didn’t start like grave-diggers. We started like normal persons within the batch.
We have been around the party for a long time. We spent a lot of our politics in the opposition, so we have a better appreciation for things than a lot of other people. That was why when we became a part of the Government, we also understood what life was like in the opposition and we knew what to expect in Government.
So, when I hear people speak of the Prime Minister I always laugh. He has a fantastic memory and his history is well known. We have a Prime Minister who has learned from the mistake of other Prime Ministers. He would have seen all of them the Bees [Barbados Labour Party], the Dees [Democratic Labour Party], the good, the bad, everything
I am happy with the style of the Prime Minister. He has given us our remits and he isn’t cutting across his ministers. But everybody wants him to speak for his ministers in a way to suggest that he doesn’t have faith in his ministers. Too many people expect him to behave like other Prime Ministers.
Q: As things stand now, should he appoint a Deputy Prime Minister?
Kellman: This is a call he alone would make. But one of the things I would say though is that it would be wise for him to strengthen the management of his leadership. In other words, do not narrow it, just keep it wide. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with him having two deputies.
But that’s a decision he alone must make. It would not be the first time. But it is his call whether he wants a [single] deputy [Prime Minister.]
There was a point in the country when we had two deputies, when Mia Mottley was Deputy Prime Minister and [Dame] Billie Miller was Senior Minister. I argued in the House of Assembly that there couldn’t be a senior minister when they were all drawing the same pay; they would have to be both deputies.