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The water rate debate

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Tue, Jan 24. 2012

Following the presentation of the 2012 Budget, there has been much discussion about the proposed increases in water rates.

Even though Prime Minister Gonsalves, in announcing the increases, did not specify the amounts, leaving them to Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) Chief Executive Garth Saunders last week, opposition to the rate increases was almost immediate.{{more}}

Quite naturally, in hard times like these, increases in whatever form are unpalatable to the vast majority of citizens. In fact, most of us are never happy with any increase, unless it is in relation to our income.

However, when economic throes threaten to stifle the very economy in which we function, it is inevitable that the squeeze will come in one form or another. Unfortunately, the ball has been dropped in the court of one of our nation’s most efficient utilities, with a proud record of excellent service to the public. Not that this record now matters, as we complain over the new rates, ignoring the assurances of management of the Authority that the increase would amount to $5 to 10 a month for the majority of domestic consumers.

The CWSA provides two very basic essential services. Where input is concerned, the CWSA provides clean, potable water of such quality that we do not always appreciate it until we travel abroad and are forced to drink water of inferior taste and quality. In the output phase, the CWSA also has responsibility for the disposal of solid waste, throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines. This double responsibility is a heavy one, made even more challenging by the fact that the Authority must contend with a multi-island state with mountainous terrain.

In the circumstances, it is remarkable that over the years, consumers have had such a valuable service at such affordable rates. That fact of life is often ignored. Ever since water consumption was first metered here, water rates became a highly politicised issue. A public statement of a former Prime Minister about “God’s water” being free, has gained particular notoriety. It is to the credit of successive governments, including the current one, that not only have rates been very affordable, but that special provisions have been made to protect the most vulnerable and indigent, in order to ensure that they enjoy the basic right to this essential service.

This is not to turn a blind eye to the central government’s handling of issues pertaining to the CWSA, notably the government’s failure to compensate the CWSA for its services to state institutions in a timely manner.

It is clear that there are inefficiencies in the overall system which must be addressed, but to take it to the level where state institutions are compared with individual consumers is being ridiculous, if not irresponsible. What must the CWSA do, if say the water and solid waste disposal services for the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital are not paid by government? Cut off these services to the hospital?

We complain loudly about a monthly $10 increase in rates for a service we must have, but spend willy-nilly on those not essential to our survival. If all our bills were at the same level as water bills, we would not have much to complain about. We are guilty of paying more attention to our wants, rather than our needs.

It is in the interest of us all that the CWSA functions efficiently, delivers an even higher quality of service and continues to be financially sustainable. We, therefore, should all play our part in ensuring that they do.

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