• Supplier blames situation on Water Corp inaction
• Set to enforce court judgment at 2.30pm today
• Aqua Design discloses still owed some $1.6m
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Central Eleuthera residents face having their water supply cut-off at 2.30pm this afternoon with the provider blaming the situation on inaction by the Water & Sewerage Corporation.
Aqua Design, which has been locked in a long-running dispute with the state-owned water utility, asserted in response to Tribune Business questions that the Corporation had not replied to the proposal it submitted for a new contract to continue operating its Central Eleuthera reverse osmosis plant beyond September 10.
Alleging that it is still owed a collective $1.6m by the Water & Sewerage Corporation across all plants it operates, Aqua Design said that in the absence of a response it was now putting into effect the August 6, 2021, judgment from the Supreme Court that found it had properly terminated the Central Eleuthera water supply contract.
Justice Indra Charles ruled that the company, a subsidiary of SUEZ – Water Technologies & Solutions, was “entitled to terminate” its deal with the Water & Sewerage Corporation because the latter had failed to cure its persistent defaults in failing to pay for water it had provided.
She gave Aqua Design two months to “demobilise” its reverse osmosis plant, located at the former US naval base, and ordered that the Water & Sewerage Corporation abide by the terms of the two parties’ contract should it wish to purchase the reverse osmosis plant’s equipment, materials, chemicals and other infrastructure.
However, Justice Charles stayed “execution” of her judgment until 2.30 today “to give them an opportunity to work out their differences”. She added: “Nothing prevents them from going back to the drawing board, and to negotiate a new sub-agreement on such terms and conditions which are beneficial to both parties.”
Aqua Design yesterday said it had tried to do exactly that, but alleged it had received no co-operation from the Water & Sewerage Corporation in negotiating a mutually acceptable new supply contract. As a result, it is wasting no time in enforcing Justice Charles’ ruling and plans to cease water production the minute that takes effect unless the state-owned utility drastically - and quickly - alters its position.
The water supplier, in a statement responding to this newspaper’s inquiries, said: “On Friday, August 6, the Bahamian court ruled that Aqua Design Bahamas properly terminated its contract with Water & Sewerage Corporation for the operation of its water treatment plant in Central Eleuthera.
“With this decision, Aqua Design no longer has the contractual obligation or right to continue operations at the site. However, in the interest of the maintaining the supply of water to the people of Central Eleuthera, we agreed to a stay of the decision, continuing normal operations until 2.30 pm on September 10 to provide an opportunity to negotiate a new contract.
“Unfortunately, we have not received a response from Water & Sewerage Corporation to our proposed new contract,” the company continued. “To-date, the past due balance across all of our contracts with Water & Sewerage Corporation is $1.6m.
“Regardless of payment status, as of of September 10 at 2.30 pm, the contract for operations at Central Eleuthera will be terminated per the judge’s decision. The termination at Central Eleuthera is separate from our contracts with Water & Sewerage Corporation at other sites. We will continue to operate the plants at those sites under those other contracts so long as Water & Sewerage Corporation meets its obligations.”
These developments mean that Central Eleuthera residents could see their water supply cut-off for the second time in less than a year, after Aqua Design first stopped producing on October 19, 2020, at the height of its payments dispute with the Water & Sewerage Corporation.
The Supreme Court ordered supply restoration three days later, but the company said yesterday: “Residents of Central Eleuthera should direct questions about their water supply to the Water & Sewerage Corporation.”
In a notice that Aqua Design also issued to its Central Eleuthera residential and business customers yesterday, it said: “Water & Sewerage Corporation has contracted with Aqua Design Bahamas for more than 15 years, creating a supply of drinking water that the Government has then provided to its residents in various communities across The Bahamas.
“Per the recent ruling of the Bahamian courts, our contract for the operation of the plant on Central Eleuthera has been terminated. The execution of the judgment was delayed until September 10 to give Water & Sewerage Corporation and Aqua Design Bahamas an opportunity to negotiate a new contract. However, we have not received a response from the Water & Sewerage Corporation to our proposed new contract.
“As such, and barring any change in position by the Water & Sewerage Corporation, Aqua Design Bahamas will cease production of water at this plant on September 10, 2021, at 2.30pm.”
Neither Adrian Gibson, the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s executive chairman, nor Desmond Bannister, deputy prime minister who has responsibility for the Corporation, responded to Tribune Business phone calls and e-mails seeking comment before press time last night.
It is thus unclear whether the Water & Sewerage Corporation has any alternative supply plans to counter Aqua Design’s threatened cut-off. Mr Bannister, speaking at the Eleuthera Business Outlook in mid-August, branded Aqua Design (Bahamas) previous decision to cut-off the water supply to Central Eleuthera residents as “a national embarrassment”.
He added: “At times they turned the water off. For me, it was a national embarrassment to see that happen.” However, he said the two sides had since “come to terms” where the Water & Sewerage Corporation will develop and manage a “brand new reverse osmosis plant” for the area. That, though, may not occur in time for today.
Hank Johnson, the Free National Movement (FNM) MP for central and south Eleuthera, declined to comment when contacted by this newspaper as to whether he was concerned about his constituents losing water supply in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I have no comment. I have no comment, sir,” was all he would say.
However, Clay Sweeting, his Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opponent at next week’s general election, slammed the situation as “a complete disgrace”. He blasted: “It’s a gross mishandling by the Government and shows a lack of care for the Family Islands. The chairman [Mr Gibson] can’t seem to focus on the people’s business.
“Why does Aqua Design have to threaten this to be paid? This is the second or third time. The last thing for me is we have to be mindful of the pandemic, and the third wave of COVID-19 cases, and for the people of The Bahamas to be without water it’s disgraceful really.
“I don’t understand why it has to get to this point, when we’re dealing with healthcare issues and the people just have to be taking it at this time.... The Government should really be focusing on the needs of the people rather than just winning a general election.”
The situation is a further headache for Mr Gibson in particular, who has recently been embroiled in controversy over allegations that the state-owned water supplier issued cleaning, maintenance and painting contracts to a company purportedly linked to his fiancee, Alexandria Mackey. He subsequently denied any wrongdoing.