Thursday, April 1, 2021

Water rates increase burden Zamboangueños, Beng to find solution

THE ZAMBOANGA City Water District (ZCWD) has ignored the pleas of residents and local government officials against raising water rates, especially at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic where many people and economy are suffering.

Mayor Beng Climaco, who strongly opposed the water rate increase, demanded ZCWD to open its book of financial records to truly find out if there is really a need to increase the water rates amid the economic difficulties of the people due to the pandemic. 

The ZCWD refused to make public its financial books. Since last year, ZCWD executives wanted to raise water rates allegedly to improve its utility services and raise salaries of employees. But residents have long complained of inefficient services and yearly water rationing, and wasted water from broken or leaking pipes in different barangay that largely contributed to the non-revenue water or losses to the ZCWD.

Due to the poor services of the ZCWD and its insistence to increase water rates, members of the City Council previously called on Leonardo Rey Vasquez, the ZCWD general manager to resign. But the embattled Vasquez, who has been with ZCWD for many years now, said only the ZCWD Board of Directors, can compel him to resign.

The ZCWD announced recently its new minimum water rate of P210or P25.00 water rate adjustment from the current P185 minimum charge will take effect on the April billing. 

According to the ZCWD, the P25 rate adjustments represent only 13% of its proposed adjustment of P278 it filed with the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) in May last year. It said the increase in water rates is needed for it to be able to start and slowly implement water security programs intended to address the growing needs of the expanding populace. 

The LWUA approved the P25 rate adjustment last October 2020.

Climaco, who also pleaded many times with ZCWD not to raise water rates, said the local government is now looking on how to help the consumers and ordered the creation of a technical working group to uphold and protect the interests of residents from the impact of the “sudden” water rate hike.

“I directed that a technical working group be created so that we will be able to look at the figures and see how the City Government will subsidize the water district,” Climaco said, adding, ZCWD must also come up with a rehabilitation plan mapping their future directions and outlining measures to prevent bankruptcy.

“Ademas de este, el govierno local ay empuja el maga mejoras para puede protege con el interes de maga vivientes and shield our people [by] the subsidies,” she added.

Climaco last year also rejected the proposed water rate, saying, it has to first improve utility services and ensure clean supply of potable water to residents, among other woes locals have raised against the ZCWD which is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC).

GOCCs receive from the government subsidies and program funds. Subsidies cover the day-to-day operations of the GOCCs when revenues are insufficient, while program funds are given to profitable GOCCs to pay for a specific program or project.

Financial Records

Climaco said she wanted to look into the salary problems of the ZCWD following complaint that they have never received any salary increase for a long time as executives cited the need to increase water rates before it could increase the salaries and benefits of employees.

“We have to look into the (financial) books of the ZCWD and utilize existing funds from loans. And before we increase the rates, we have to provide better service to the public. It’s just as simple as that and by looking at an area where to improve,” the mayor said, adding, she will be studying the possibility of asking the ZCWD to forgo the increase of water rates and look instead for other ways to address the funding need for development projects. 

“One of the causes of the ZCWD’s financial burden is its system’s loss or the non-revenue water being not fully maximized. So much water is wasted and this is compounded by climate change resulting in water rationing. To be efficient and sufficient, the ZCWD should and must always be at the helm of providing water,” Climaco said.

The local government last year also handed over some P29.36 million in cheque to the ZCWD as part of its assistance to tens of thousands of bonafide concessionaires. The P500 one-time cash subsidy to water concessionaires - as promised by Climaco - was credited to the account of all bonafide water concessionaires upon payment of their bill.

Recommendations

Climaco previously ordered the creation of a technical working group (TWG) headed by Vice Mayor Rommel Agan and City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Engr. Rey Gonzales help the ZCWD find solutions for its problems. 

Among the recommendations of the TWG were to strengthen the enabling environment for sustainable service delivery; strengthen the capacity of water supply and wastewater treatment service provides to expand coverage and improve services; strengthen the collection, analysis and sharing of water and climate data; reduce risks from climate-related disasters and improve capacity for ensuring long-term water security.

The members of the past TWG were Councilor Elbert Atilano, City Administrator Angelique Go, City Agriculturist Carmencita Sanchez, City Budget Officer Geraldine de la Paz, City Planning Officer Engr. Rodrigo Sicat, City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer Dr. Elmeir Apolinario, City Legal Officer Atty. Jesus Carbon, Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Rodrigo Rufo Soliven, Rotary Club of Zamboanga City West President James Cesar Makasiar, Ateneo de Zamboanga University President Fr. Karel San Juan, and the Employees Confederation of the Philippines. (Zamboanga Post, Jasmine Mohammadsali)

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