A confidential Water Sales Agreement between the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) and the Desalination Company of T&T (Desalcott) shows that WASA pays over $50 million a month for desalinated water.
On Friday, Guardian Media sat with Ministry of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte and his specialist team at his Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain offices to better understand WASA’s financial constraints under its current operations.
At that meeting, it was revealed that WASA pays Desalcott $10 for one cubic foot of water, which equates to some $1.8 million per day. This water was initially supposed to be directed to the industrial areas of Point Lisas but the additional output was eventually used to supplement WASA’s supply.
In 1999, WASA first contracted Desalcott to purchase 24 million gallons per day. But by November 2012, the agreement with Desalcott was amended and the new sale agreement increased its production from 24 million gallons per day to 40 million gallons per day. This expansion was expected to be increased incrementally over a 13-month period, with the delivery of water increasing over this period up to 40 million gallons per day by December 2013.
This increased supply of water was expected to allow WASA to further supplement its supply of potable water to residents and businesses in south Trinidad. Just last year, that production figure was ramped up again to 42 million gallons per day.
Guardian Media contacted Desalcott chairman John Thompson for information on the agreement but he declined to answer any questions on the sales agreement and directed our requests to Le Hunte.
“I can’t say anything about the agreement because it is confidential,” Thompson said in a brief telephone interview last week.
The primary market for the water produced by Desalcott is still the Point Lisas Industrial Estate tenants, who currently pay market rates. Excess water is utilised by WASA to bolster its supply to south Trinidad. But Le Hunte and his team admitted that desalinated water was the most expensive way to improve the country’s lagging supply.
Billion-dollar loans due next year
The already cash-strapped WASA will soon have to find money to make payments on two massive multi-billion loans borrowed in 2011 and 2013 to fund projects that have not yet been completed.
This repayment will be handled by the Public Utilities Ministry, even at a time when Le Hunte is looking for over a billion dollars to implement the much-needed metering system to better monitor water usage throughout the country.
According to information received by Guardian Media and confirmed by the ministry, in 2011 the then government accessed a $340 million loan facility from the Inter-American Development Bank to pump into its Wastewater Infrastructure Rehabilitation Programme. The money was expected to go towards the design and construction of the Trincity Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The authority was expected to use this bond facility for improvement works in the areas of environmental conditions within the country, personnel and staff efficiency and wastewater management operations and maintenance performance. The projected expenditure for the period April to September 2018 was $76.5 million and for 2019 it is $55 million
According to information received by Guardian Media, the programme comprises three components:-
1. Improvement of Trinidad and Tobago’s wastewater system, which involves the refurbishment, upgrade and integration or decommissioning of malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants
2. Restructuring of the organisation structure to improve efficiency within the Authority; and
3. Institutional strengthening of the wastewater management operations and maintenance performance, which includes training activities for the new standard operating procedures for the improved wastewater systems.
In 2013 under the People’s Partnership administration, WASA took on a $1.7 billion loan for the construction of two treatment facilities—the Malabar Wastewater Treatment Plant and Collection System at a total cost of $620,194,021.00 and another $654,053,426.17 for the San Fernando Wastewater Treatment Plant and Collection System.
Work on the Malabar facility was commissioned in April 2015 and was only completed and opened in July 2019.
Works for the San Fernando catchment area commenced in fiscal 2015 and is scheduled for completion in fiscal 2019.
Works for the Malabar catchment area commenced in 2015 and was scheduled for completion in 2018 but was eventually completed in July 2019.
The institutional strengthening component of the programme meanwhile involves the engagement of a consultant for the provision of corporate governance services.
The estimated cost of the programme is $1,577.6 million and expenditure for April 2018 to September 2018 was pegged at $227.1 million and at $225.4 million for 2019.
The money was also expected to help WASA improve its financial system and its Geographic Information System database. However, to date, WASA has been unable to provide any credible data on water usage or distribution flows through its systems.
Guardian Media approached WASA for information on its distribution per constituency and was told that that geographical information did not exist.
“The Authority’s potable water distribution system is not aligned to constituency boundaries. As such, it is not possible to provide data on water distribution or usage by constituency as requested,” said Daniel Plenty at WASA’s communication department.
-Another IDB bond issue totalling some $1,335.9 million was utilised to finance the construction and refurbishment of water storage facilities, new booster stations, the implementation of a network management system, a pressure management system, the replacement of leaking mains and the expansion of the Trinity Reservoir. This involves the implementation of 99 projects of which eight are on hold and 69 were completed, 20 projects have been deferred while two are being funded under the IDB programme.
-Under the banner National Social Development Programme (Water Component) in 2002, WASA started a programme to improve water supply to the population, where the supply was less than 84 hours per week and in areas which were without a water supply. The programme involved the implementation of 513 projects. To date, 502 have been completed, eight are in progress and three are no longer required because of system reconfigurations.
The programme is financed by a bond issue in the sum of $304 million.
The projected expenditure for the period April to September 2018 was $2.2 million and $21 million for 2019.