Saving Baciwa

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

In truth, what is important is not to save the Bacolod City Water District per se but to ensure that the city gets enough and reasonably priced potable water supply, the dream of its citizens for decades. Bacolod is expanding very fast and with that progress comes naturally the demand for more water for the household, commercial enterprises and public use.

But data from the water district indicate that water supply source has reached its peak and Baciwa seemed to be unable to increase this basic commodity. It appears it has nowhere to turn. Not that there are no more springs in the mountains but Baciwa is looking for water elsewhere – where there are none.

The effort of the Board of Directors of Baciwa to solve this problem that has reached a critical level is grounded on giving this task to another enterprise, naturally a business enterprise. The problem is that a private company’s first concern is in the return to its investments even at the expense of service.

On the other hand, the purpose of Baciwa was to provide water as a public service with profits merely to keep it going and reasonably expanding to meet its reason for being – provide water to the citizens of Bacolod. It is admitted that today Baciwa remains unable to perform that function and water sufficiency is a goal that to date escapes the district. In non-government enterprises, the company shall have closed shop or had gone into joint ventures with others for their common welfare.

Although Baciwa is not losing financially, it is unable to expand. The reason given for this is that the water district does not have enough funds and in fact, is still paying the amortization of its previous multi-million indebtedness in a failed attempt to deliver more water. There is no plausible explanation for this failure and raised issues of internal corruption. Indeed, there are undenied reports that Baciwa is still in a position to secure funding for expansion. But that is another story.

The attempt to get more water through the Bacolod Bulk Water Inc. got snagged but Baciwa, instead of helping the supplier, the Baciwa board posed obstacles that, so far, we have no idea what happened. The drilling of deep wells had also encountered a problem that led to the closure of some of them.

The entry of Prime Water into the picture created opposition not because people did not want more water but because of the secrecy of the terms of the supposed joint venture. Although portions of the Terms of Reference were released to the public to comply with the requirements of the rules, the small prints are missing and the major issues like the fate of the employees and the mechanism for rates determination are also unclear.

The recent order of President Duterte to investigate the water suppliers in Metro Manila, was prompted by what the president considered as onerous provisions, primarily the ban on the government in interfering in the determination of water rates. These provisions are anchored in the principle that government should not intervene in private business affairs.

While it may appear to be a different story with that pending joint venture of Prime Water and Baciwa, the fact is that the danger of the privatization of Baciwa will mean also that the decision to raise water rates will be the sole prerogative of the private partner of Baciwa.

The latest information is that the planned joint venture of Baciwa and Prime Water is in danger of being junked. The Local Water Utilities Administration fears, and with good reason, that a congressional investigation on the series of privatization of water districts will expose the onerous provisions. I was informed the case of Baciwa is part of LWUA’s deep concern.

In case LWUA steps into Baciwa, the possibilities are high that the planned joint venture may not push through and thus preserve the non-profit, government-corporate nature of the district. Just before the year 2019 ended, the Palace reiterated that the inquiry on water concessionaire contracts had not been suspended. On the other hand, it will push through and LWUA is already preparing on how to save their officials’ hides.  The president wants some people thrown into jail

Unless strong political pressure is exerted, Baciwa maybe saved from privatization.