Baksh blasts management of water utility
-comments unfair, says Severn Trent director
By Nigel Williams
June 28, 2003
Minister of Housing and Water, Shaik Baksh yesterday strongly criticised Severn Trent’s management of the water utility describing the UK company’s performance to date as not up to standard.
But, Operations Director of the company, Andrew Barber said that despite many inherited difficulties it has been able to maintain a favourable level of service.
Severn Trent Water International took over management of Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) from January 1 under a five-year contract funded by the UK government.
At a press conference yesterday in the GTV 11 studios, Baksh said he was dissatisfied with the way things were going. “The progress over the last six months is not what I would like to see. We need to move towards having much more progress in many areas of weakness at GWI.”
While he agreed that Severn Trent had inherited a few problems, he said its performance to date was not up to standard. He mentioned that a number of villages on the East Coast were yet to receive potable water and those that were, were not getting good quality service.
Barber, in an invited comment, said the minister’s comments were unfair. He said Severn Trent began running the company with limited working capital which did not allow them to carry out some of the works they had intended. He added that the prolonged dry weather, along with the general bankruptcy of GWI, were also a part of the problem. He told Stabroek News that these problems were still with the company but GWI was committed towards overcoming them.
Baksh at the press conference also lamented the slow pace with which the hinterland water project was moving, noting that the contract required that a hinterland manager be in place and this was not yet done. Stabroek News understands that Peter Waldrond, a member of Severn Trent, had been appointed to the post but he had only spent a few days in the country before returning home. Baksh said the hinterland project was one of the benchmarks which the firm would have to meet within the five years. He said it was very critical towards the development of the water sector and as such it required someone to be appointed to the post of hinterland manager. Barber said they were looking for a hinterland manager and as soon they get one he would be commence work in the area.
Moreover, Assistant Public Relations Officer of GWI, Javin Singh had told this newspaper that Severn Trent was still working on a proposal to submit to the Department for International Development (DFID) for funding for the project. He said officers were in the regions conducting feasibility studies and consulting residents.
With respect to the other managers, Baksh disclosed that the Customer Services Director, Mike Byrne, had resigned a month ago, citing security fears, and up to now no one had filled his post. Baksh said his departure meant that one of the most important offices in the company was not functioning. According to Barber on May 14 persons unknown had made extortion calls to Byrne and for that reason he left. Barber said that the company was now trying to recruit someone to fill his position. He said too that they are negotiating with the government to provide adequate security for them, noting that other managers are also concerned about their security.
Barber admitted that the company has not performed to its fullest, but noted that, “we feel we are maintaining a level of service despite the difficulties.”
Baksh said the Board of Directors at GWI had expressed similar concerns and was working with the management. He added that GWI was working towards upgrading its database which had been posing problems with customer billing. He said customers were still not paying up and that for the year GWI had fallen well short of its financial target. He reminded the media that GWI was still paying $100M per month to the power company while not collecting as much revenue.
GWI is being managed under a UK-funded contract. It is the second foreign managed utility to come under scrutiny in recent months. Earlier this year, CDC/ESBI - another UK-based group - was flayed for its management of the Guyana Power and Light. CDC/ESBI later withdrew from GPL and sold its interest back to the government.
In other developments, Baksh said major water schemes, which the ministry had been undertaking over the years, were nearing completion. This includes the LBI water scheme which would include all the villages from Industry to Belfield. Baksh conceded that currently many of the villages on the East Coast were receiving less than satisfactory service and in some areas no water at all. He noted that when the LBI system comes on stream some time in August, 60,000 persons would benefit. Additionally, he said the Eccles to Friendship Water Treatment Plant was almost complete. Baksh said his ministry was also rehabilitating three water treatment plants at Eccles, Covent Garden and Golden Grove all on the East Bank of Demerara, so that the new housing schemes at Grove and Diamond would benefit. At Bartica, work is complete on new pipelines and the water treatment plant. In Linden, $1M Euros will be spent on rehabilitation works. He said that the project was well advanced with the tendering of major contracts for the rehabilitation of some of the water treatment plants at Wisroc, West Watooka. Baksh said they have already ordered various types of pumps and are to do transmission works and put in place overhead facilities in the first phase of the project.