Water company mulling staff cuts to cover operational costs
Stabroek News
March 31, 2004

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The cash-strapped Guyana Water Inc (GWI) has not ruled out the possibility of trimming its staff in order to cover its operational costs, according to Managing Director Andrew Barber.

Barber's statement has come as the company embarks on a massive disconnection drive in an effort to collect outstanding payments owed by delinquent customers.

GWI is being managed by the UK firm, Severn Trent under a five-year management contract funded by the UK Department for International Development.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Barber told reporters that at the moment they were looking at every possible area where the company could cut back on its operational costs. He complained that energy charges were still high, as well as wages and salaries.

He said cutting staff was not ruled out and if circumstances necessitate such measures the company would act accordingly.

He said already some workers have been re-deployed into other areas, while ten-member groups were reduced to two, among other changes. Barber said their focus now would have to be on utilising the available skills wisely while cutting wastage

Barber however said GWI management was more concerned about improving the company's outlook, while making it into a more financially-viable entity.

Speaking about the disconnection campaign, Barber said it will run for one month after which they will do a review of the programme. He said ever since the campaign began on Monday a number of persons have rushed to their offices countrywide to settle their debts.

Barber told the media they will do everything to recover their monies, noting that even with their television, radio and newspaper advertisements some customers are still not responding.

"We will have to get drastic on them, we have since re-doubled our disconnection crews, provided security where needed and things already started to happen."

Once someone's service is cut off they would have to put up $6,000 as a reconnection fee.

"We don't have a cut-off point, once you are in indebted to the company, once you are in arrears no matter how small it might be you need to make contact with us or else your service will be disconnected," Barber declared.

He said at present GWI has over 143,000 customers and 30% of them hardly pay for their service.

He said the other 70% would usually pay on time, adding that it is only fair to them to ensure that the remaining debtors are pursued until they pay.

"There is no need to do anything if payments have been kept up to date. If payment is in arrears payment is due in full and you should contact the Customer Service Section at your local GWI divisional office," Barber urged.

He noted that the campaign is really aimed at those customers in arrears on their 2003 charges. He said if customers did not receive a bill for last year they should make contact with GWI immediately.

Barber mentioned that GWI has mobilised a number of disconnection crews which have been dispatched into all of the divisions.

"Our disconnection teams are going out across the region disconnecting the supply of water to those customers who wilfully refuse to pay, customers must realise that they will only get a service if they pay for it."

The Managing Director lamented that the company's billing and rates collection continues to be problematic. He said Severn Trent inherited a faulty billing system, but they have been trying to improve it. Barber posited that even if all of their customers were to pay their bills promptly, the company will still be hard-pressed to maintain its operations. According to him what was needed was better management of their pump stations and other operating units.

Asked to comment on the contention that the water supply was not always on, Barber said there are challenges in terms of giving quality water service to customers, but the company was working very hard to achieve this.

He said they could improve their distribution system if the money was available.

He said further that water wastage had to stop. The company has set up leak-detector teams in all the divisions. They have since fixed 5,000 leaks which have benefited some 35,000 customers.