MONTEGO BAY, St James — Disappointed by what he suspects is "political sabotage", Councillor Mark McGann (Jamaica Labour Party, Somerton Division) is calling for an explanation from the National Water Commission (NWC) regarding the disconnection of social water in the St James areas that he represents.
"I reached out to the National Water Commission, and I never reached out for an apology because that is not necessary, but I want them to come forward with a clarification. Is it that they are doing a disconnection exercise in the parish of St James based on agreements with the municipal corporation or non-payment of bills for social water? They have refused to clarify that situation," an obviously peeved Councillor McGann told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
"It smacks of political sabotage, especially in a time when the local government election is being spoken about," the councillor added.
According to McGann, the Somerton Division has been subjected to inadequate water supply from the NWC for many years due to the agency's dilapidated distribution lines. In addition to the insufficient running water, the councillor told the Sunday Observer that the St James Municipal Corporation (SJMC) was barred from trucking water to these affected areas through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"We can't assist because the MoU and regulations from NWC state that wherever there are water distribution lines, then we are not supposed to be trucking water to them or providing a standpipe. They won't give us the water for it," McGann said.
But residents were still being left without adequate running water and highly dependent on social water, he said.
Now with the recent disconnection of social water and the conversations surrounding the issue, the councillor is perturbed and is questioning the motive behind the actions of the agency. McGann maintained that the "overall tone in the conversation that is being put forward for this disconnecting" is concerning.
"It has political implications as the citizens are alleging that the agents of the water commission are stating that the operation is municipal corporation- and councillor-driven, and when confronted by their management then they backtrack to say that is not what was said. It was said that it is an initiative by the National Water Commission based on some non-payment from the council for social water," McGann shared.
Noting that he represents 32 rural St James communities, the councillor told the Sunday Observer that only six of these communities benefit from consistent running water in the homes of the residents. This, he argued, is the main reason why social water, in the form of community standpipes and regularly trucked water, is a necessity in the other communities on the agency's distribution line.
Disclosing that there are six primary schools and four health centres in his division, McGann stated that these institutions are sometimes "left high and dry" by the State agency.
"I have a school called Goodwill [Primary and Infant School] and the NWC does not have any water trucks in that area, so they have to be depending on us. We do collaborate with them, but it is only at their convenience because Goodwill requires at least two truckloads of water a week for the school to stay open," McGann disclosed.
"We at the municipal corporation have to pay for the trucking and NWC gives us the water but when it comes on to the regular citizens, they are not willing to work with us," the councillor added.
Referencing the construction of a 300,000-gallon water storage tank, which represents the initial phase of the $300-million Canaan/Adelphi Water Supply System being undertaken by Member of Parliament for St James East Central Edmund Bartlett, Councillor McGann scolded the agency for not using this initiative as a means of engaging residents who are currently not regularised.
"The Member of Parliament has taken the initiative and is putting in the biggest water investment in the past 20 years across western Jamaica — a 300,000-gallon water tank and new pumps for the Canaan water supply system. One of the expectations is that the water commission would take the initiative and start having town hall meetings to sensitise persons as to the opportunities in getting them to regularise on the system," he told the Sunday Observer.
McGann further stated that instead of disconnecting the supply of water going to these communities the State agency could work on ensuring that more communities will benefit from the addition of this water tank, which he said is almost completed.
"I want them to expand the distribution line because we are putting in the systems for this to happen. I have places that have not seen water in their pipes in nearly 40 years because there are no pipes there — and these are budding communities. These are areas where we have requested that they look at the distribution, and they haven't looked at it," lamented the councillor.
He added: "They have not looked at the town hall meetings, they haven't looked at expanding their distribution line, and at a time when they are not able to supply the communities, why would they now be disconnecting social water? It makes no sense."
When the Sunday Observer contacted the corporate communications manager at NWC Andrew Canon, he requested that an email be formally sent regarding the councillor's concerns. Up to press time there had been no response regarding these issues in the Somerton Division.