BACIWA, PRIMEWATER INK CONTROVERSIAL JOINT VENTURE | Move met with indignation rally

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BY CHRYSEE G. SAMILLANO

The Baciwa Employees Union and Bacolod City Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. slammed the joint venture deal between Baciwa and Prime Water during a protest in front of the Baciwa office yesterday afternoon.*

The signing of the controversial Bacolod City Water District and PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. 25-year joint venture agreement (JVA) in Bacolod City yesterday was met with an “indignation rally” led by officers of the BACIWA Employees Union.

Lorendo Dilag, BACIWA chairman of the board, yesterday said the partnership will bring in P6.3 billion in total investments from the Villar-owned utility firm in the next 25 years. It is expected to start on November 1, following a three-month transition period.

Dilag said BACIWA directors worked for the approval of the contract with PrimeWater for three years because they sincerely believe in the project. The partnership has the support of BACIWA Board vice chair Lawrence Villanueva, corporate secretary Mona Dia Jardin and the other directors, Dilag said.

“It is practical, necessary and beneficial for the City of Bacolod because BACIWA has no financial capacity on its own to fund an expansion project that will answer the need for more water supply,” he said.

They need a partner so they do not have to secure millions of loans like what they had in 2008. They do not want to get a loan again, Dilag added.

However, Bacolod Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr., who joined the indignation rally, said the people of Bacolod are angry and enraged with the “highly disadvantageous contract between BACIWA and PrimeWater.

During a public hearing that he initiated with the BACIWA management last week, Gamboa said several options were discussed for the planned improvement, expansion and rehabilitation of the water utility firm.

He said that despite the “positive outcome” of the public hearing , the three members of the BACIWA Board “clandestinely like a thief in the night approved the highly disadvantageous contract.”

Gamboa said legal action can be taken now that the contract has been signed.

Dilag said they did not choose PrimeWater but it qualified after the disqualification of the two other stakeholders — Metro Pacific and Manila Waters.

In the first five years alone, PrimeWater will pour in an initial P1.6-billion for pipe laying and after five years, it will invest P2 billion more for installation of wells, delivery of more water supply, and employees’ compensation, he said.

After 25 years, the assets put in place during the partnership will be turned over to BACIWA free of charge, Dilag said.

He said PrimeWater vice president Romeo Sabater arrived Thursday with their corporate counsel Gilbert Galvez to give orientations to the regular employees of BACIWA and job order and casual employees.

“The employees have accepted the benefits offered by PrimeWater and that the Board is happy for that. The employees will be receiving higher salaries compared to what they are receiving now from BACIWA,” Dilag said.

Sabater said that once PrimeWater receives the notice to proceed Prime water will take charge of the daily operation of the water supply system of BACIWA.

This means the water source, operation, maintenance, distribution, customer service, payment and collection will be handled by PrimeWater, he said.

“What we can do from today to November first is to make sure that all plans we have identified together with the Baciwa representatives would be validated and confirmed. The moment that the team will start the day-to-day operations in Baciwa, we have definite programs to address the current water situation in the city,” Sabater said.

He said there will be tariff increases over the term of the joint venture, not on November 1, but definitely, there will be an increase along the way.

Sabater said the tariff adjustment will be submitted, reviewed and approved by BACIWA and presented to the public. It will also be approved by the regulatory agency.

Engineer Jenelyn Yap-Gemora, assistant general manager for operations, said that the ultimate goal of the joint venture is to the provide the public with 24/7 water services

Meanwhile, Gamboa said he recalled that the Baciwa management assured him that he will be provided with information about its contract with PrimeWater during the public hearing he conducted.

He said Land Bank of the Philippines had offered to provide the financial requirements of Baciwa to improve its services.

Also present at the rally were representatives from the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Bacolod and Amlig Tubig.*

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