Murky waters

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

The entry of another bidder to a joint venture with the Bacolod City Water District created a new venue for the opposition to block this form of business adventure or, heavens forbid, misadventure of the water district. From the looks of it the demand of the public for transparency will not be met. Baciwa does not only sell murky waters, its transactions are murky as well.

The position of Baciwa since the beginning is that they are not required to disclose the terms of reference of the joint venture. They will reveal only after, but not earlier. Clearly only when the goose is cooked will be public know what the dish is.

Baciwa, despite all demands, have stayed put on this position. This secrecy naturally creates the suspicion that certain officials of the water district have something to hide and people think they are hiding transactions under the table. That does not sound nice but public perception in situations of this nature are not always nice.

Of course, in certain business transactions, confidentiality is necessary but the way Baciwa is conducting its transactions it rejected the open-bidding system without telling people why the offers are to be kept secret. Bacolod concessionaires will just have to accept the position that the district officials are honest and have only the public interest in mind. But that is asking too much of the suspicious public.

That is the problem – people don’t trust the officials enough to leave them to work out the best deal. In brief, the issue is not so much the terms of reference as the integrity of the Baciwa officials and the noble intent of the proponents.

Now the opposition is demanding that the Baciwa board of directors be revamped. That means they should resign. The opposition is also asking whether indeed the members representing certain sectors in the board had been elected by their sector.

I doubt the board members can prove their eligibility. In the Baciwa charter, they are to be chosen by the sector they represent but the reality is that only the mayor of Bacolod decides who should “represent” the sector. And his decision is based on politics as a reward for loyalty to him. We must consider that Baciwa is not just a water supplier for the citizens but also a moneymaker for Grupo Progreso for the elections.

It is a given that the proponents will extract the best conditions to maximize their profit. People must accept the fact that business organizations are in business not for their health or preparations for the next life but for profit. The bigger the profit the better. And under the present city administration that expected profit had already been shared.

“Aye! There’s the rub!” Hamlet bewailed because while the proponents want more and more profit, the public officials with the authority to close the deal, also want to share in the profit. The bigger the profit the bigger their share.

This is the reason that the issue of the joint venture had lagged expectations for too long while the opposition had been repeating the same complaints with no solution in sight.

Bacolod Councilor Wilson Gamboa claims he has already the terms of reference on the proposal of Prime Water which means the proposition is moving on, albeit slowly. Gamboa should now reveal those terms of reference to give the people the idea to know whether indeed the joint venture will lead to privatization or simply Prime Water taking part in the project.

The conditions of Prime Water’s entry have been the source of a lot of speculations. Now that it is out Gamboa must reveal is content. Clear the murky waters, so to speak.

Bacolod is now feeling the pangs of water shortage. The city is supposed to be a model for the country. What kind of model is it that over 50% of its residents are not supplied with potable water by the government? And even the water coming out of the faucet are either droplets or are murky?

Bacolod is expanding and water is vital for all of them. As I wrote before, the bottom line is sufficiency of good water supply. We seem to be going around the same circle. That might be good politics, but the people care only for the clean water from their taps.