Fiscal awareness appeal
Gov't doesn't have unlimited stack of revenue, PM explains
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (third right foreground), president of the National Water Commission Mark Barnett (left foreground), Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Matthew Samuda (second right foreground), and Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Western Floyd Green (right foreground) commission the $129-million Sandy Bank to Black River replacement pipeline project in St Elizabeth last Friday.

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Prime Minister Andrew Holness has urged Jamaicans to become more attuned to how countries are run as some people hold the belief that the Government has unlimited resources.

"The truth is there is a financial constraint and I go there because there is a sense in the conversation in our 60th year that there must be no connection between the revenues that we earn and the spending that we want to undertake somehow that connection is missed. There is a belief that somewhere the Government has a stack of revenue that it can just dip its hands into and solve the problems," he said while addressing the commissioning of the $129-million Sandy Bank to Black River replacement pipeline project in St Elizabeth last Friday.

"If nothing changes in the next 60 years, it must be that Jamaicans become more attuned to how countries are actually run," he added.

Noting that there are financial constraints affecting how the Government responds to complaints, Holness said, "When the calls and the complaints come in I understand, and we have to be empathetic. We have to be caring, we understand, but I think it is also important that we place into context the situation; it is not that the Government is sitting down on the money and don't want to do anything with it, that's genuinely not the case."

The pipeline replacement project is expected to benefit 2,500 commercial and residential customers.

Holness said it was a "real travesty" that the commodity supplied by the National Water Commission (NWC) was "just wasting".

"The Government is responding to the numerous complaints that were made about this poor, dilapidated, outdated water main and the Government is also acting to protect your revenues. This is not a unique situation where water mains are collapsing. The truth of the matter is… our water infrastructure is old and creaky," he said.

He added that the Sandy Bank to Black River water supply system was installed in the 1960s using asbestos pipes.

"What we have been doing is that every new road that we are building that we know that these pipes exist, we take them out and we replace them with ductile metal pipes or sometimes HDPE or sometimes PVC, which are more modern materials, which give a longer lifetime and better service," he explained.

"Where we see the pipes reach to a level of deterioration, where they are collapsing on their own or collapsing whenever pressure is brought to them, as much as we can within the budget that we have, we respond," he added.

He said the NWC is an executive agency, which is in a "tricky position".

"The commodity is also a social good, meaning that you cannot deprive people of it because it is important for life, so as a result of that the NWC will never be able to truly maximise the value of the commodity and become self-sufficient," he said.

"The NWC, in a way, is always reliant on Government support through the taxes that you pay," he added.

He said the utility provider has to be focused on efficiency.

"There are some things that we can do nonetheless, and one of them is to ensure that the $7 billion [allocated in budget for NWC] is used efficiently, that there is no corruption and that there is no waste. We have sought, as the Government, to maximise the efficiency of the NWC to ensure that every dollar of that $7 billion reaches your pipe. I'm not saying we are perfect at it, but we are improving," he said.

The prime minister added that the utility provider is examining the prospects of using renewable energy.

"In the months to come you will be hearing more of a solar plant that we will be putting in place at one of our facilities to help to generate electricity to lift, process and distribute the water to you, which would reduce our costs," he said.

Kasey Williams

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