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Daniel Cummings and the CWSA

Daniel Cummings and the CWSA


by G E M Saunders

I wish to place on record my own personal appreciation for the long and distinguished service given by Mr. Cummings to the institution of the CWSA and to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Having worked five of my 21 years as a professional engineer with Cummings, I considered him both my mentor and manager at the CWSA. I am therefore impelled to offer my own perspective on his career and contribution. {{more}}
Cummings joined the institution in 1982 at a time when the CWSA was still in its embryonic stage. At that time, its small rented offices were scattered between Kingstown and Arnos Vale and billing, engineering and surveying were all manual operations.
Just after my return to St. Vincent in 1983, I vividly recall a youthful engineer, Cummings, along with a few pipe fitters, visiting homes in Cane Garden. These visits were aimed at ensuring that water was restored to consumers after one of the many long outages that were then the order of the day.
That was my first lifelong lesson about engineering. Daniel Cummings taught me then that even with that piece of paper and all the other qualifications, it was not beneath him to go on foot, house to house, to ensure that water was restored to consumers’ taps. I learnt very early then, that engineering was not about status and frills, but rather about service and improvement in the quality of life of those we serve.
Cummings’ early years were spent working alongside professionals like Peter Brathwaithe, UN Water Specialist Andrew DeJong and manager Robert France. I am, however, convinced that no one had more influence and impact on the young Cummings than the no-nonsense Grenadian, Raymond Noel, who was the consummate professional and who, I recall, repeatedly stood up to unions and indeed the Government of the day on matters of principle.
Cummings will also maintain that he owes a debt of gratitude to the stalwarts who preceded him and prepared the way. These include Misters Bailey, Branch and Cambridge, among others.
Following the exodus of the manager, Mr. Noel, and the expatriate engineers, the mid-80s saw a lean period for the CWSA. Finances were heavily in the red at the NCB and Cummings for some time doubled up as both manager and sole engineer.
The poor financial situation and the lack of engineers meant that funding for projects was scarce and implementation capacity very poor. It was then, in 1988, that Cummings and the CWSA Board arranged for the recruitment of three engineers to carry the burden of operations and maintenance and project design and implementation.
Thankfully, too, the Government of the day wisely seized the opportunity to arrange for a certain amount of debt forgiveness in order to attract funding for projects. I recall, too, that at some point some publicity was made of the fact that the CWSA had finally come out of the “red”. This was indeed critical in restoring the confidence of the public and the donors and significantly improved staff morale.
This opened the doors for some very productive years for the CWSA and Daniel Cummings, and I am especially proud to have served for five of those years. During the period 1988 to 1993, we implemented or conceived several significant projects, including the architectural design of the new Office Complex, the computerization of the CWSA, the Metering Project, the Georgetown and Sandy Bay Projects, the Mc Carthy-Diamond Project and the South Leeward Project design.
It was also during this period that public relations and customer service took on a new meaning. There was also the inaugural Water Week, and after-hours service was also finally institutionalized. In-house staff training also took off with assistance from a new recruit, Gillian John.
Much has been said about Cummings and the CWSA’s independence over the years; however, one can reasonably argue that much of this progress and his success would not have been possible without a certain amount of freedom created by firm management, an enabling government and especially a wise and supportive Board of Directors, led by Chairman Monty Maule.
During my previous sojourn at the CWSA, and including the periods when acting as general manager, I never saw or spoke to the then Prime Minister, Sir James Mitchell. In fact, I honestly felt that he did not know who I was. This was when I realized that Cummings as general manager had earned the respect of the Government of the day, to the extent that he was left only to carry out government policy and interface largely with the chairman and board of directors.
However, in spite of all the progress achieved over the last 20 years, there is still much to be done. We must also be cognizant of the cost of this progress. The heavy indebtedness occasioned by the two recent major projects at Dalaway and the Windward side of the island means that financial viability could become a real challenge when the repayment of these loans takes effect.
This means that the finances of the Authority can no longer be taken for granted. The CWSA is a business and a vital utility providing a basic but vital service. The institution should therefore be allowed to focus on its core responsibility of providing adequate potable water to all Vincentians at a reasonable cost. This means that the generation of surpluses must be a priority, since it is these surpluses that will be used to improve systems like Majorca and Hermitage and to provide a more reliable supply to the Grenadines.
Cummings has been known to blow his top on a few occasions much to the chagrin of many. However, those of us who have spent a lot of time with him know him to be a man of strong beliefs, never short on praise for excellence or condemnation for failure. It was also felt that he sometimes operated with too little room for compromise. His management of the institution was, however, effective.
I have no doubt, however, that Daniel Cummings will continue to make his contribution to the water sector and national development as a whole. I wish him all the best.