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ALBERT BRANDFORD: BWA’s job No.1: water delivery!

ALBERT BRANDFORD, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: BWA’s job No.1: water delivery!

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The mission is quality water on demand. – Terrance Jennings, Guest Column, DAILY NATION, September 13.

IF the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) needed any further convincing, events that unfolded this past week on the second day of the new school term at the St Joseph Primary School would have been powerfully persuasive.

On Tuesday, scores of children were forced to return home because there was no water at the school – a continuing problem for the parish and a hangover from last term for the institution.

Press reports said while there is a tank on the compound, it has a crack which leaks the water.

“Teachers told me by the time the students are ready to use that water, all normally leaks out by break time,” said Andrew Dixon, a Horse Hill resident who organised a demonstration outside the BWA’s spanking new headquarters in the Pine the previous week to protest chronic outages.

A consensus emerged among several people with whom I have spoken on what is now undeniably a national water crisis: it is that in these circumstances, the BWA has perforce to shift its focus and prioritise meeting the immediate needs of its customers and residents in water-starved parishes such as St Joseph.

It almost goes without saying that while the medium and long term plans of the Authority cannot be ignored or put in abeyance – despite the fact that the rain gods are not now on its side – the delivery of quality water to those folk who need it most, whether through taps or by tankers, has to become paramount.

At the heart of the BWA’s problem seems to be too little water and poor distribution management.

Given that the BWA is constrained by finances and lack of tankers – I’m told sometimes there may only be one vehicle working all day to service people in affected areas – the suggestion has been made that Corporate Barbados could assist with either the provision of new imported trucks or the conversion of locally available vehicles.

It is accepted that the BWA is in something of a bind in that its infrastructure is failing at a faster rate than it can repair and replace in an environment where the demand has been increasing exponentially mainly through housing, construction and perhaps to a lesser extent, agriculture.

One view is that part of its problem has to do with its human resources and the very real possibility that the wrong people might be occupying critical areas contributing to the overall inefficiencies.

 The Cinderella

 The late Prime Minister David Thompson in a 2009 address to the staff noted that though the BWA serves the same customer base as the other utilities in electricity and to a lesser extent, telecommunications, it has traditionally been treated as “the Cinderella”.

“Perhaps the very origins of the Authority work against it as most persons continue to view it as a Government Department and harbour somewhat negative impressions of the organisation and its staff,” Thompson noted. “Some of this negativity is internalised by a number of staff members themselves.

 Skills and attitudes

 “The result is that some of the human resources in this sector are bereft of the skills and attitudes needed in a complex and challenging utility environment.

‘Today, customers expect utility personnel at all levels to be able to give informed answers to their concerns whether they be about outages, bills, or guidance on how to transact business.

“The dearth of suitable human resources has adversely affected the level of service to the public and necessitated the use of scarce resources for basic training rather than training specific to the operating environment and placed added pressure on those managing the systems.”

An individual during discussion on the water woes in the western and north-east of the island suggested that the crux of the problem was in engineering and management.

The BWA, whose general manager has been acting for several months, in a recent newspaper advertisement sought candidates for the posts of director of engineering and director of finance with the latter’s duties and responsibilities including some eyebrow-raising provisions that no one reached was able to clarify.

These related to ensuring that all statutory requirements are met including charitable status, and employer health tax, neither of which is mentioned in the legislation and it was not clear whether the latter is a new impost or simply relates to the BWA’s contribution to the Group Medical Plan.

Maybe, BWA could eschew the hubris and seek external assistance in devising an urgent and immediate solution.


Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]