PLP Leader Philip "Brave" Davis.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis has questioned how officials could consider disconnecting delinquent Water and Sewerage accounts when the government is the corporation’s largest debtor.
Mr Davis claimed the government owed WSC some $80m in unpaid bills – a colossal debt compared to the $9m owed by customers. A Ministry of Finance official could not confirm the $80m figure to The Tribune last night.
In a press statement yesterday, the former minister of works criticised WSC officials for considering disconnections amid the COVID-19 pandemic when water plays a vital role in helping to break the virus’ transmission.
His statement came after WSC executive chairman Adrian Gibson told Tribune Business on Wednesday that he planned to write to the Cabinet asking to restart delinquent account disconnections as the utility provider grappled with dire financial straits.
“The Cabinet of The Bahamas made a policy decision to suspend water disconnection exercises by the Water and Sewerage Corporation in the wake of the COVID-19 so the request by the executive chairman of WSC to recommence disconnection exercises has to be seen as a moot point,” Mr Davis said.
“The country is in the middle of the worst phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to date where infections are on the increase and water disconnections at this critical juncture would make it more difficult for thousands of Bahamians to sanitise their hands, bodies and surfaces, potentially worsening the community spread of the virus.
“Additionally, a Cabinet approval would contradict the initial policy intent of the government that the competent authority said was driven by science and send a wrong and confusing message to the general public.”
The Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP continued: “Further, how could the government justify disconnecting delinquent WSC customers who owe some $9m when the corporation’s single largest customer, the Bahamas government, owes WSC almost $80m in unpaid water bills?
“A Cabinet approval would appear duplicitous and hypocritical on the face of it. The cash shortfalls the corporation’s chairman is complaining about are common in many households under these very challenging economic conditions.
“I hope that with all of the crowing from the rafters by this government over their oversubscribed $600m international bond placement, the government should lead by example and seek to immediately settle this enormous debt with WSC.”
On Wednesday Mr Gibson said that the state-owned water supplier has little choice but to “recoup” some of the multi-million dollar sum it is owed given that current cash flows “cannot sustain monthly payments to vendors and [staff] payroll for the balance of 2020”.
He revealed that the corporation was “going back and forth” with the Ministry of Finance over reclaiming a “roughly $9m shortfall” in residential customer payments as a result of being directed to cease all disconnection activity since late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With WSC facing a $30.8m “backlog” on payments due to vendors at end-August 2020, a sum that continues to grow, and a $15m-plus year-over-year decline in revenue for the year to-date, Mr Gibson said such “unprecedented challenges” required immediate action to place the entity on “a firmer footing”.
Noting that other government ministries, agencies and departments currently owe the corporation some $7.9m, with no payment made on this collective debt since March 2020 and COVID-19’s arrival, he added that the budget’s cut to its annual subsidy and Hurricane Dorian’s impact had further worsened the utility’s woes.