Higher water rates-2

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

JUST BEFORE we left for abroad for a month “just to take time off”, we passed by the Baciwa office and saw employees demonstrating against the planned privatization of the water district. It was noontime so the workers were using their lunch break to express their opposition to the move and to generate public support.

We know and I have written considerably about the so called unsolicited proposals from three sources but the insiders tell us that the truth is that the deal has already been made with the second proponent. The only thing missing is how to make the deal look good and defensible as within the provisions of law and the usual promise for the common good.

As I mentioned earlier I am not against any of the proponents or endorsing one over the other primarily because we don’t know what that omnibus term, “terms of reference” is. The proponent and the Baciwa officials have clamped up. The convenient excuse for not revealing what the deal involves is the mantra of “confidentiality”.

So until the officials tell what the deal is, the public will have to wait until their goose is cooked. Then they can take it or leave it, or if they got the guts, file a case against the water district officials for what they had been accusing them of – privatizing the water district contrary to law.

Apparently the employees are not supportive although they were offered very generous compensation if they resigned or retired.

The workers’ union said that the second proponent, Prime Water that the Baciwa board is dealing with, has offered the employees a huge severance package but they cannot accept it since it is the consumers who will bear the burden for the next 25 years in terms of water rates increases. That is considerate of the union and a strong argument to get public support.

The problem, however, is that the public does not seem agitated enough to join in the mass opposition and the city officials that exercise authority over Baciwa have closed their eyes, ears and hearts to the high possibility of a rate increase though their pockets could be open.

I think the gods are enjoying the spectacle that the Bacolod constituency has created by removing a credible opposition in the city government. As one cynic told me after he was completely devastated by the results of the last election, this is repayment time for the Bacolod residents. Indeed, the most vulnerable concessionaires are those highly suspected of selling their votes to the highest bidder.

The workers believe, but the Baciwa officials deny, that a joint venture will lead to the privatization of the water district because it will be operated by a private company which has profits as its main concern rather than public service.

Statements coming out into the media said that deal is actually a joint venture hiding behind the government’s Public Private Partnership. Under the joint venture deal, only eighteen or at most twenty employees will be retained but these “employees” include the five members of the Board members. They are not employees but appointees of the mayor. The rest of the 510 employees, including job order employees, will either be taken in by Prime Water, the partner in the venture, or offered severance package. The reported termination pay will be as high as 400% of basic salary.

However the union said this arrangement is disadvantageous to the employees since they will have no security of tenure. A private company will be more concerned about its profit while the government will be concerned about providing services to the people. But are the employees really conscious of service over profit? By profit here includes personal gain even among government workers.

By retaining Baciwa under the government control, the employees claim they will be protected by the Civil Service Commission. On the other hand, under a private company they are helpless which is not entirely correct because labor laws also protect them. The Department of Labor and Employment is even charged as pro-labor.

The basic issues had been aired many times that there seems to be a charade going on here. Some say the union is merely positioning for better terms for themselves.

We are just therefore scratching the surface. The reported congressional inquiry will hopefully give us answers.