A losing tug-of-war

"These complaints (against PrimeWater) have become prominent enough to serve as cautionary tales."

As President Rodrigo Duterte embarks on a war against water concessionaires servicing Metro Manila’s water needs, it seems the struggle of Bacolod residents’ concerning their own water service provider is apparently being overlooked.

To date, the residents of Bacolod have been embroiled in a year-long tug-of-war with its local water utility, the Bacolod City Water District (BACIWA), in the latter’s pursuit of a joint venture with private proponent PrimeWater Infrastructure Corporation.

Negotiations between the two began in February this year, with PrimeWater having officially passed the negotiation stage later in July. Throughout the entire process, citizens have loudly expressed their opposition to the joint venture, criticizing the water district for conducting the evaluation without public consultation.

However, despite overwhelming criticism, the board remained adamant the NEDA joint venture guidelines do not oblige them or PrimeWater to divulge the provisions.

In search for answers, citizens have formed groups to lobby against the joint venture. The water district’s own employees formed the BACIWA Employees Union to elevate their concerns. Representing the consumers is multi-sectoral organization Amlig Tubig, which has consistently advocated for the consumers’ right to be informed of the developments, and campaigned for transparency from BACIWA.

In fact, the organization was disturbed by the BACIWA board’s behavior following the Swiss Challenge they hosted on Oct. 28, 2019 for the joint venture. The board had publicly opened the submissions of one of the bidders to determine if it had passed the requirements for eligibility, and reportedly promised to announce the result after a week. However, they have kept mum in the month that has since passed.

“They have effectively left us in the dark,” said a representative from Amlig Tubig. “Their habitual silence in all joint venture matters has left us feeling very suspicious about their intentions as a utility created to serve the people.”

Interestingly enough, what happens in Bacolod doesn’t stay in Bacolod.

With PrimeWater’s extensive presence, operating in 127 towns and municipalities, its joint ventures all over the country have gained notoriety for similar illicit or suspicious conduct. Citizens in these water districts, such as Lingayen and Paniqui, have taken to social media to lament on the subpar water quality and continued service interruptions that their water district’s joint venture, also with PrimeWater, failed to resolve.

These complaints have become prominent enough to serve as cautionary tales: Amadeo Water District terminated their negotiations with PrimeWater, also for a joint venture, following successful rallies held by its residents.

Metro Iloilo Water District reportedly declined a similar proposal from the water company, citing dissatisfaction with PrimeWater’s existing joint ventures.

Adding to reports of the company’s inappropriate practices are the accounts of other water districts being strong-armed into accepting PrimeWater’s proposal for a joint venture. Sources have attributed this to the significance of the company’s political ties.

Regulatory bodies seemed to have noticed PrimeWater’s poor performance, with the Commission on Audit issuing reports on PrimeWater’s violations—both breaches in its own joint venture agreements and in NEDA guidelines.

Given PrimeWater’s apparent convention of acquiring joint ventures in succession, negotiating with the water districts behind closed doors, and yet consistently underperforming, it seems like they are a company only masquerading as a water utility—with insidious intentions.

Even with a prestigious name behind the company, PrimeWater seems to have been employing illicit business practices at the expense of its honest and paying consumers. It should not be utilizing water, a basic necessity, to pursue anything other than the honest supply of water.

Anything less is a disservice to the Filipino people.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Commission on Audit , PrimeWater , Bacolod City Water District , Amadeo Water District
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