The following is an email of a letter sent to Hon. PM Musa
I try to follow events in Belize on the Internet and recently I learned that GOB is planning to buy back the water system from BWSL. This is great news but it has been overshadowed by rumors that it will be resold to a privileged few, who, I assume, have no real interest in providing this vital service to the Belizean nation, but rather in earning easy money at a protected rate of return on investment at the Public’s expense and in controlling another sector of the national economy.
My concern is that water is not a commodity that should be traded: it is essential to life, unlike commodities like telephones, electricity and cable television that make life easy, but are not vitally essential to life. We can do without the latter but we cannot do without water.
And it is not only about having water, but rather having enough of it. The norm that Belize (through PAHO) has set is a minimum of 21 gals per person per day. Using Primary School Arithmetic (that even politicians should be able to understand) this amounts to 630 gallons per person per month based on a 30-day month, and for a family of 6 (father, mother and four children) 3,780 gallons per month. This may seem excessive but in the US the standard is 48 gallons per person per day. The impression that PUC gives is that a poor family can get by with 500 gallons per month and only pay the minimum rate. This is misleading as poor families tend to be larger than well-to-do families, and, in any case, the 500 gallons do not even meet the minimum requirement for one person.
Adequate water supply and its proper use promote better health and better health promotes productivity and productivity can produce more taxes. An adequate water supply is the responsibility of governments and municipalities and water should not be subjected to market prices. On the contrary, most governments subsidize water rates.
I think it is fair to say that the consensus among Belizean water consumers is that water services were better under WASA. Consumers in Belmopan no longer have 24-hour service and their water meter is activated by air trapped in the system due to the routine (if not deliberate) interruptions in service. PUC should know that there are international standards for the supply of water in terms of drinkability (taste and quality) and of pressure at which water is delivered. As a civil engineer I feel insulted when I am offered bottled water as it is the duty of the water provider to provide safe drinking water from the tap. No Belizean should have to buy bottled water; this should be left to tourists.
The foregoing comments on bottled water raise the question of ethics: If private companies have interests in both water supply and bottled water, why would they have any interest in providing quality water?
WASA was not perfect: there were too many political appointments of unqualified persons on the Board who were in no position to contribute anything to WASA. Although water rates were lower than now, the rates were still too high (five times the unsubsidized rate charged in the Republic of El Salvador where water is not as abundant as in Belize).
Belize has enough qualified persons to provide quality water services (without subsidy and with expansion of its infrastructure) at lower rates than WASA charged, but this would require a Board of Management appointed by Professional Associations – engineers, architects, medical professionals, accountants, etc. The Board would respond to government’s Macro-economic and Social Development Program, rather than to the whims of a particular Minister or political party.
I am hoping that you will have an open mind in this matter and that your government will act in the interest of all Belizeans. We have the opportunity to do the right thing and correct a mistake that many communities worldwide have made.
Wilfredo E. Guerrero,
Civil and Hydraulic Engineer