By Gerry Kangalee
November 16, 2021
WASA recently, and once again, announced the shutdown for maintenance of the desalination plant (DESALCOTT) the supply from which it pays, according to the Draft Estimates of Income and Expenditure for the Financial Year 2021, $US72 million per year.
Yes, you heard me, millions of United States dollars for a water supply that is locked off every Monday morning much to the distress of consumers, particularly in the South Western Region of the country. (This is the third shutdown since September). Sometimes the reason is given as planned maintenance, sometimes as emergency repairs and sometimes as raw water quality issues. Make of it, what you will!
So what does the cabinet sub-committee report into WASA, signed by six government ministers, say about this untenable situation? They say: “This vulnerability is manifested in the reduction of production levels by Desalcott from time to time, which is seen as a leverage to secure settlement of outstanding indebtedness to the company.”
So, it seems that our access to water paid for with public funds, our funds, not government funds; not PNM or UNC funds, OUR FUNDS are used as a bargaining chip when the government and their private sector supplier wrangle over the terms of their contract.
It’s just like how the big offshore energy companies vary production levels to put pressure on the state. And we does steups and fret when workers utilise their power over production and talk about how they holding the country to ransom. Ah well!
The latest shutdown was supposed to last from November 8th to 13th. Lo and behold on the 13th it was announced that the shutdown would be extended. So we are paying millions of US dollars for an ecologically destructive water supply which makes no sense in an island that is part of the great South American rainforest system and which enjoys abundant rainfall and suffers endemic flooding problems.
DESALCOTT is owned by HKL Group (Hafeez Karamath Group) founded by the late unlamented Hafeez Karamath and set up to supply desalinated water to WASA. The contract to supply WASA was consummated in 1999 with the Panday government and gave rise to much speculation about ‘the short pants man.” It was amended in 2012 and is due to expire in 2036; 37 years after it was signed. It is a take or pay contract!
According to the cabinet sub-committee report: “The desalination plant at Point Lisas, was constructed to supply water to industrial customers on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, its primary market. Water produced in excess of that requirement was to be used by WASA to supplement its supply to residents and businesses in south Trinidad”.
The government in 2012 agreed to pay for increased supply of water when DESALCOTT expanded its capacity. Supply moved from 24mgd to 40 mgd. When plants in Point Lisas began to shut down revenue from Point Lisas plummeted and almost 70% of DESALCOTT” s production was routed to non-industrial consumers and has left a large section of the population in South and South West Trinidad at the mercy of the Karamath group.
Instead of dealing with capture, storage and transmission of the abundant water resources in the country, the politicians prefer to make so-called public/private partnership deals which always ends up being a bonanza for the private company at the expense of public funds/OUR FUNDS!
So, in the sub-committee report, our politicians are wailing that: “This over-reliance on desalinated water from Desalcott places WASA in a very vulnerable position and creates supply-chain risks and the associated higher costs of water production being effectively paid for by WASA.”
What sweet in goat mouth..!! The problem is, though, the sourness is not in their bam bam, but in ours.
So the DESALCOTT arrangement, which had no technical or economic justification for being entered into has pushed an already tottering WASA over the financial brink and every other month, consumers have to hold their heads and bawl: WATER GONE! WATER GONE!