Charles Jr wants to maintain strong community link in water improvement questSunday, November 17, 2019
BY HG HELPS
He has been on the job for eight months, and Pearnel Charles Jr, whenever his tenure ends, will want the people of Jamaica to talk about him as the man who was there with them trying to work out the issues that they faced with water challenges.
Senator Charles Jr, who was appointed minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation in March of this year, wants to be referred to as the consummate community man, who looks at the challenges, first hand, that the people of this country face and be there with them until the very end when such problems are solved.
“I have an advantage in terms of being able to see politics from a particularly different perspective,” Charles Jr told the Jamaica Observer in a wide-ranging interview recently. “I recognise that one of the things we have not done well is confront challenges. We sort of speak around the problem and give almost an excuse for things that are happening all the time, so my approach is to have a very deliberate, open relationship with the public and have a very calculated approach to confronting, head-on, the challenges.
“What I have found by doing so is that very quickly I have been given a more clearer and accurate view of the on-the-ground situation and people are starting to find ways to communicate with me. You see social media, I get messages, e-mails, pictures, videos from people through Twitter, Instagram, through Facebook, privately, and some people will quarrel with you publicly.
“But because of the approach that I have taken in coming out of the office and actually being in the field, every week I am in the field more than the office, you meet people, people begin to have greater confidence in what you are trying to do and it is almost as if now the public has become my eyes. Instead of me being a minister who feels that the public is quarrelling with me, what is happening now is people will send me information … minister this pipe buss, that pipe buss, my house is this or that; instead of before what I was getting is oonu no gi me no water, oonu no this or that. It is almost as if because of the different approach, people understand more that you are working for them, you are not coupling up with an agency to hide a problem. And I have got significant information from citizens that I don't know, and I try in every case to respond as effectively as possible, whether it is to simply send the information to NWC (National Water Commission) or Rural Water, follow-up, make sure something is done, whether it is to send a truck or fix a water system, or simply to run on a valve,” said the man who has Cabinet responsibility for water, housing, and infrastructure.
The former minister of state for national security, and later foreign affairs, said that interacting with the public often had resulted in tangible returns for him as a public servant, and expressed the hope that the people will continue to send him information about what is happening in their geographical locations, so that matters may be dealt with.
“The last message I received over last weekend, if the lady didn't send us that information, then NWC would not be aware that they weren't getting water, because when I talked to the NWC they didn't know that the community wasn't getting water. And it was just a simple distribution problem,” said Charles Jr.
“With the drought they had to rework how the water was distributed across the Corporate Area. So they shifted water from one space to the next and so the network now needs to be reset. In that process of resetting the network it's like you are doing a balancing test. So it takes time for you to get it right, to get it back to where it should be. Some places that you think getting water, getting it at a lower pressure that it should be because of the difference in adjustments. The approach is working, it is a different approach than most. I won't say I am the only person who has been on the road, but I'm definitely trying to have increased community engagement, increased direct engagement and a better understanding of what it is for my ability to help develop policy and develop plans that are going to make some sense.”
Charles Jr, in response to the question of whether or not the NWC was still relevant in today's emerging Jamaica, sounded a positive note for the organisation that has received criticism for its management of water distribution over the years.
“I believe the NWC is still relevant. And its very relevant because of how our system is set up. The question is, is it in its current form relevant or is it required to be in that form and the answer is no,” Charles answered.
He said that there were several alternatives that were being considered, including the divestment of some portion of the organisation, adjustment of how it has its organisational management and structure and several other projects that he is now looking at.
“There is a massive project in terms of innovation that we are putting together now to put before Cabinet, that will become a legacy project for Jamaica that will transform, if it is approved. And it will transform how the NWC operates and how the organisation thinks about waste,” Charles Jr underscored, emphasising the thrust to convert waste water into a highly productive venture, as he outlined to the Sunday Observer last week.
“It's the same thing with housing. I went to Montego Bay and was looking at the first hemp house being built in the Caribbean by a lady who came down from Canada. We are looking again at the introduction of green sustainable practices of how we manage our water resources, how we manage our housing developments. There is a lot that we could be going. The opportunities for the future are great and massive, because of what we have as a country. That's something which I am very excited and passionate about. I want to be able to transform how we think about waste and show the country that waste will become one of the most productive resources for us in terms of energy creation and also to be used in different ways to help in our agriculture sector. That will be put to Cabinet for the long term.
“In the short term, we have 188 million gallons needed nationally per day — 60 million gallons per day is the demand for the Corporate Area, and growing. We have a deficit in the Corporate Area of between five and 20 million gallons, depending on who you ask and depending on the day. So when you couple that now with the old pipelines that you have, where we are losing, of the water that we source and treat and produce at the NWC, and send out to the customer, nationally, between 60 and 70 per cent of that is lost, either through leaking or theft.
“In the Corporate Area alone for the past four years we have had a programme between Maya Jamaica and NWC that has reduced what we define as non-revenue water, that water which you produce, you treat, push out but you get no revenue back, as you lose it in either leaks or theft. That non-revenue water reduction programme has reduced the non-revenue water in the Corporate Area from 63 to 36 per cent. So when you talk about short term effective methods, nothing is more effective…
“They replace metres, go into areas where they see high non-revenue, high consumption but no payments and they do education programmes, get people regularised where they become paying cvustomers. So its more than just technical. It's technical, social and looking into socio-economic circumstances of the areas. You have leak detection that is done as well, by persons trained, international experts. You have teams that are going about daily, almost 30 leaks per day. It's both pathways towards greater efficiency. If we can extend that programme and reduce what we are losing through leaks and theft and increase our capacity by rehabilitating the wells, in the Corporate Area, 10 or 11 which we couldn't use before because of the nitrate content, we have technology now that will allow us to be able to use it.
“If we can rehabilitate our wells, if we can build the Rio Cobre content supply treatment plant, which will push another 15 million gallons into the Corporate Area, then we should be able to satisfy the demand in the Corporate Area in the short or medium term, because that's not the only thing we are planning to do,” Charles stated.
The minister said that the Administration was doing work from the Negril Treatment Plant which will be able to satisfy areas in St Catherine and other places. Also, several rainwater harvesting systems are being put up by the Rural Water Supply Ltd.
“I am out every week opening another system,” Charles said. “I have gone to Rock Hall All- Age, put in a 30,000 gallon system with a block and steel tank, and black tanks with solar — powered pumps and we started a behaviour change initiative called the WIQI Initiative —Water IQ Initiative and I'm very proud of it because what is says is that all the rainwater systems and solar pumps you can put in will not make any sense unless you change the attitude.
“So we identified 12 students from each school as water managers, we identify teachers as water coordinators and they become the standard-bearers to help teach what we have trained them, in terms of how to use water, how to turn off the taps… that started in the schools, we are down into the communities. We have finished Rock Hall All-Age, we moved then to Enid Bennett and we will be doing a couple other schools in the next two to three months,” Charles said.
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