0

Supplier 'Crossed Line' On Eleuthera Water Shutdown

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Cabinet minister yesterday blasted a water plant operator for "endangering the lives of Bahamians" by cutting off supply to central Eleuthera residents due to a dispute with the Water & Sewerage Corporation.

Desmond Bannister, minister of works who has responsibility for the Corporation, slammed Aqua Design Bahamas for "the nastiest, most callous conduct I've ever seen" in deciding to cease water production at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Branding the company, a subsidiary of SUEZ – Water Technologies & Solutions, as "greedy" for its actions despite being paid $1.7m of the debt owed to it by the Water & Sewerage Corporation, Mr Bannister said it had made "tens of millions of dollars off the Bahamian people" through "one-sided" contracts in its favour that were signed off by former administrations.

He pledged that the Government will "do whatever we have to do", revealing that it was taking legal advice after the Water & Sewerage Corporation was forced on Thursday night to obtain an emergency Supreme Court injunction forcing Aqua Design to resume supply after the payments proved insufficient incentive.

However, Aqua Design and its parent last night revealed in a statement to Tribune Business that they plan to challenge the injunction obtained by the Water & Sewerage Corporation on the basis that "inaccurate statements" had been made to the Supreme Court to obtain it.

Acknowledging that the timing of its actions was "unfortunate", as hundreds of Eleuthera residents - some for a week or more - did not have water for bathing, washing, cooking and good hygiene amid COVID-19's continued spread, Aqua Design blamed the Water & Sewerage Corporation's delinquency in paying debts due to the company for leaving it with no choice but to act as it did.

"Water & Sewerage Corporation contracts with Aqua Design Bahamas, SUEZ’s legal entity in The Bahamas, that provides desalinated water in several locations. Water & Sewerage Corporation has consistently, and for many years, been delinquent in paying for the service provided," Aqua Design said.

"With regard to Central Eleuthera, there have been multiple attempts to work diligently with Water & Sewerage Corporation to avoid having to cease production at the plant and resolve the matter. However, they have generally been non-responsive. We have sent multiple communications over the course of several months, but it was only after the plant was shut down that Water & Sewerage Corporation acted."

Aqua Design added: "Rest assured we did not make the decision lightly. By not paying their bills, Water & Sewerage Corporation has risked water supply for the people of Eleuthera, and their non-payment has now brought this to a head at an unfortunate time.

"On October 23, we were ordered to restart production as part of an injunction made by Water & Sewerage Corporation. We complied with that order, but, given a number of inaccurate statements, we will be challenging the order."

Aqua Design's pledge of a court challenge is unlikely to go down well with residents of Governor's Harbour, Palmetto Point, James Cistern, Savannah Sound, Windermere Island and other settlements affected by last week's cut-off.

Rather than a finger-pointing blame game between the Water & Sewerage Corporation and Aqua Design, which has effectively made them pawns or held to ransom over a payment dispute that does not directly involve them, all those communities will likely want is a consistent supply of water for their homes and businesses.

Still, Mr Bannister spared no effort in lashing out at Aqua Design, blasting: "They have cut the water off in Eleuthera at the height of the pandemic. There was no excuse for what they did. It is something the Bahamian people will never accept, and we will do whatever we have to do.

"They have endangered the lives of Bahamians. Money cannot bring back lives. They have endangered lives. It has been callous. If they are owed money, that's fine, but you cannot bring back lives with money. It's the nastiest, most callous thing that I have ever seen. In the middle of a pandemic, to turn off the water in Eleuthera.

"You can use someone as a pawn, as a hostage, but when you deny them water... water is life saving. Everybody needs to exist. It's entirely unacceptable. They've crossed the line with what they've done to the Bahamian people. We will not accept that type of conduct in The Bahamas. I'm very angered by what they have done in Eleuthera. They don't care. They were callous about human life."

Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Water & Sewerage Corporation had made a $1m payment on the debt owed to Aqua Design the week before last. A further $700,000 was said to have been paid last week in response to the supplier's demands, but it ultimately took the Supreme Court to order that the water be turned back on.

Mr Bannister confirmed that this newspaper's figures were "pretty much correct", although neither side has confirmed the total sum owed to Aqua Design. Besides the 500,000 imperial gallons per day supplied to central Eleuthera by its Rock Sound plant, the company operates three other reverse osmosis plants on the island, effectively giving it a monopoly lock on production on the island.

"The Corporation has made some payments," Mr Bannister added. "I think you can appreciate, based on what you know, that the Corporation has not had the kind of assets to make all the payments it would like to make. The Corporation has made such payments as it can."

Adrian Gibson, the Long Island MP who is the Water & Sewerage Corporation's executive chairman, will give a statement on the central Eleuthera situation when the House of Assembly meets today. He previously told this newspaper that it owed some $30.8m to vendors and suppliers, a portion of which will have been due to Aqua Design, at end-August 2020.

Aqua Design has around eight to nine contracts to supply the Water & Sewerage Corporation throughout The Bahamas, including on San Salvador as well as Eleuthera. "As far as I'm concerned they've made tens and tens of millions of dollars off the Bahamian people," Mr Bannister told Tribune Business. "I hate to say this, but they have a sweetheart deal that's not in the interests of the Corporation.

"Whatever the situation was they could have waited, but they are greedy, and we have to deal with greedy people. I believe the contracts they signed were one-sided in their favour. They are not contracts any thinking government would have signed. These are contracts that were obviously signed under an administration other than this one. No thinking government would have signed those contracts."

Mr Bannister thus placed the blame on the former Christie, and possibly Ingraham, administrations before revealing that relations between the Water & Sewerage Corporation and Aqua Design had been souring for some time as the latter's reverse osmosis contracts come to an end.

Such deals, which saw the Water & Sewerage Corporation outsource water production to private operators on multiple islands, typically give multiple options when they expire. The parties can renew, or the operator sells the plant at its equipment to the Water & Sewerage Corporation at an agreed price, with a third option being that it simply takes its equipment with it.

Suggesting that Aqua Design was seeking to "disengage" because its time will soon be up, Mr Bannister said: "I'll tell you how petty they are. I'm told by the Corporation they want to be paid for the wells they have dug in Eleuthera.

"You could be compensated for chattel if you own a building that cannot be moved, but they want to be compensated for the wells dug in the ground. That's how petty they are, completely petty. That type of thing won't be tolerated in The Bahamas."

While water supply in central Eleuthera has been turned back on, water supply to some customer has taken a while to be restored due to the delays involved in restoring pressure to the system.

Comments

Clamshell 1 month ago

Uh ... if a customer on Eleuthera fails to pay their water bill, W&S sends a crew out to shut off their water. Period. Now, when W&S fails to pay its bill, and the water supplier does the same, the government is OUTRAGED!

My water bills there normally were $70-$80; I once received a bill for $637 — and when I questioned it and tried to get an explanation for such an outrageous bill, W&S simply came to our property and shut off our water, forcing me to pay up ... a clear form of extortion, and W&S never was able to justify it, repeatedly refused to provide an explanation. It was theft and extortion, plain and simple.

I certainly sympathize with the people of Central Eleuthera who were without water, as I’ve been in their shoes during the many long periods when the water system simply didn’t function. But, believe me, W&S is hardly blameless here. On Eleuthera, they’re practically a criminal enterprise.

2

The_Oracle 1 month ago

Just goes to show, Aside being incompetent, government administrations cannot be trusted to live up to political promises or Contractual obligations. And yes, the people will always suffer the above, and continue to vote for them!

1

nassau98@aol.com 1 month ago

I totally agree with one of the writers comments above. The staff at W&S on Eleuthrea are very, very disrespectful. They seldom answer the telephone and when they do, they never have any definitive information, with regard to your call.

It sometimes take months to get a water meter connection - unless you are in the click or (F,L or F)

Moreover, they make you pay for infrastructure - that sometimes already exist in the area (they did this to me) where they are making the water connection to your premises.

Trust me W&S acts like the mafia on Eleuthera. I beleieve that the Minister should take a look at the entire operation up there.

If we are going to develop our family of Islands: W&S, Cable Bahamas, BTC all need to get their act together becaues the amount of time that it takes to get an answer about a request for service, or the service itself from these three (3) entities is POOR, POOR POOR

1

Dawes 1 month ago

If Bannister wants to get people on his side he can release the details on what is owed and what is in the Contract. Then the people can decide if he is right. As it is i would guess that he is wrong and just using foreigner as a get out for his own incompetence.

2

Porcupine 1 month ago

Yes. Simply pay your bills until you can negotiate a new contract. Bannister is out of his league. Probably legally, as well as, logically. There is a history of ignorant and petty so-called leadership in this country. Bannister seems to exemplify the rot of both parties. Both have had their chance to better the lives of Bahamians. Both have chosen to enrich themselves instead.

2

observer2 1 month ago

Ok bloggers lets get to work on this one.

Who is Suez? Looked it up on the internet and can't figure out where this company is based or who owns the company. Seems extreamly international and fluid.

Why is it when we want to buy planes for BahamasAir we go to Airbus Italy ($250m). Whey when want to buy fossel fuel power plants we go to Shell in the Netherlands ($100m), why when we want to defense for boats we go to Europe? Why is it when we want to borrow $600m we go to Credit Suisse in Switerland? Why are we dealing with these types of people when they have all black listed us and now cutoff our water?

Ok on the reverse side. Who come to our rescue during Dorian? America. Who comes to our rescue during Covid19 - America.

So, when it come to money going out we go to corrupt black listing Europe but when we are being wiped out by hurricanes and pandemics we look to America. When we need tourist we look to america.

Why can't we deal with America? The planes, boats, diesel/fossil generators and now essential water are all wrong for our islands but there must be something really nice about dealing with the Europeans and non transparent companies like Suez....wow! I never even heard about them and this contract before. They must have kept it on the down low.

America has a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices act which stops American companies from paying kickbacks to foreigners.

1

happyfly 1 month ago

America has a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices act which stops American companies from paying kickbacks to foreigners......is exactly why our crooked politicians do not use American companies

2

tribanon 1 month ago

Aqua Design added: "Rest assured we did not make the decision lightly. By not paying their bills, Water & Sewerage Corporation has risked water supply for the people of Eleuthera, and their non-payment has now brought this to a head at an unfortunate time.

Spin and outright lie as they may, Desmond Bannister and Hubert Minnis know full well, as do the good people of Eleuthera, that the financial viability of Aqua Design's water production plant has always been very much dependent on the government owned W&S Corporation settling its contractually agreed debts to the plant's operators on a timely basis.

And the forever deceitful, incompetent and useless Desmond Bannister and Hubert Minnis alike, don't want us to know that government is now also having great difficulty in paying its debts to Consolidated Water, the foreign owned company that produces for W&S much of the water for the residents of New Providence. The situation is apparently becoming so desperate that the Minnis led administration is actually considering the need for W&S to start rationing its supply of water to residents and businesses in New Providence. Simply unbelievable!

1

trueBahamian 1 month ago

Didn't Mr. Bannister mention the other day that they wanted to spend $20 million to build sidewalks? If you can find $20 million for sidewalks, you should be able to pay your creditors.

2

tribanon 1 month ago

Bingo! There are no bounds to Bannister's very deceitful and lying ways. He's as useless and incompetent as they come, period!

1

OMG 1 month ago

Surely it should be a condition of new build homes have a catchment tank size dependant on factors such as number of bathrooms, roof area and so on.. my catchment tank is in regular uae but pity people with older houses.

1

Clamshell 1 month ago

I agree ... our old home had 3 cisterns with catchment connection ... but in the dry season, that didn’t meet the need, even as we were careful with water usage.

0

nassau98@aol.com 1 month ago

W&S operates like the mafia in Eleuthera. If you are not (F,F or L) it could months to get a water connection. Moreover the staff is very, rude and uncaring.

1

DDK 1 month ago

Repost:

"PM and his band of minions are all short-sighted, greedy, corrupt, self-serving, power-hungry, glory-seeking, highly dangerous fools. Did I leave anything out?😂🤣😂"

They also lie a lot!

Why does Cabinet not call a vote of no confidence in their leader? Why does the Free National Movement or another political entity not offer up a group of sincere, intelligent citizens who can at least attempt to pull us out of fifty years of muck and mire? We are getting closer and closer to the point of no return.

0

joeblow 1 month ago

BPL just disconnected over 8,700 customers for non-payment, during a pandemic "endangering the lives" of Bahamians. I didn't hear Mr. Bannister then! When people don't pay their bills, service gets disconnected.

http://www.tribune242.com/news/2020/o...">http://www.tribune242.com/news/2020/o...

I believe the government owes Consolidated Water Co. many millions of dollars to produce water for Nassau. Lets hope they pay up before the same thing happens here!

1

hrysippus 1 month ago

So this lawyer turned politician is upset that the company supplying potable water under contract to the government owned WSC has stopped supplying water because the WSC has not paid for it for a long time? I am not a lawyer but there seems to something very wrong with the government's position. I wonder how it would stand up in court?

0

The_Oracle 1 month ago

If I'm not mistaken, the law requires cisterns to be built for out island houses. Hmmm. Another complete long term failure to administer the law?

0

lovingbahamas 1 month ago

This is absurd! The comment that WSC does not have the money to pay SUEZ on a contract that our government negotiated, apparently numerous times, tells you how our government has gone to pot. What about when our poor souls tell WSC or BPL they don’t have enough money? CLICK! No one cares-you are cut off-and then maybe a re-connection fee. The government just has to go to Supreme Court to get it turned on. Where do we Bahamians go? What happened to all the money that the Eleuthera people paid? Probably being used to keep water on in Nassau. Why would anyone trust our government? They don’t pay their bills. How do we know airplane maintenance is being done? It’s a slippery slope!

0

Sign in to comment