Baciwa maintains secrecy

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

SINCE the beginning, the Bacolod City Water District had consistently maintained its secrecy as if it is a private company and not a government corporation. On the other hand, the water concessionaires insist that the terms of reference or the conditions of the deal with a private company, Prime Water, be made public. After all it will be the consumers who will carry the burden of whatever is decided by this company and Baciwa.

The term “public” as used here needs to be clarified. These are the concessionaries, the people who buy water from Baciwa. There is another meaning to the word. This refers to the members of the Baciwa Board who are appointed by the Mayor of Bacolod for a term. The concept here is that these members of the board represent the “public” so that legally, it is the public. In fact, the nominees for appointment to the board are supposed to come from people recommended by sectors of Bacolod’s society.

Thus by the nature of their representation, they speak for the concessionaires and their decision means a mandate of the people, in a similar manner as the decision of the legislature, is the “voice of the people”. In effect, the terms of reference that the protesters are demanding are already revealed to the public through their representatives.

The problem here is that the board is perceived not as representatives of concessionaries but of Mayor Evelio Leonardia. They are therefore beholden to the mayor not to the concessionaires. The result is that the board as a legal “public” is now ranged against the concessionaires, the real public.

And so the discussion is stalled for months without the real public knowing what they believe they deserve to know. Indeed, if they were to pay for the decision of the board, then by right they must know. No matter what the outcome will be, the board members will painlessly pay whatever their water meters say and still receive their high per diem and allowances that they prescribed for themselves.

Secrecy then is vital in the negotiation with Prime Water. This is necessary in order not to upturn the apple cart for the board and Prime Water.

The July 15 forum was thus an exercise in futility because Baciwa refused to open up except to insist that it will reveal the terms of reference only after the deal. How can the people accept that kind of statement? Reveal only after the deal is done? How then can the people influence the framework of the joint venture? Is this not like issuing a stay of execution after the head had been chopped off?

It seems the stubborn defense of Baciwa for its secrecy cannot be changed. The board merely made a distinction between the reported privatization and joint venture. There is no privatization, the board insisted because ownership, control, time frame and liquidation differ. True but one word that strikes me as unclear is “control.”

Under the deal, who will control Baciwa in relation to personnel and operation? There were already offers of high early retirement pay, retentions, and hiring. If Baciwa has all the funds needed to continue operation as is, but lacks money for expansion, why should this matter affect personnel and administrative control?

Baciwa has not defined “expansion” but we take it for its simplest meaning – more water for more people. If this is the case, why would the deal involve control of Baciwa when the proponent will merely provide more water? Was this not answered by Bacolod Bulk Water that infused 10,000 cubic meters a day?

Why then can’t the entry of Prime Water follow suit? BBWI does not exercise control of operation or affect the status of personnel in the same way as the reported water from Murcia.

Recall that the entry of BBWI did not create any opposition because there were no secret deals and fears of privatization.

If Baciwa cannot “sustain developments” that it admitted, why is there a need for secrecy? What are these “developments” that Baciwa is talking about? Surely these cannot be top secrets that Baciwa would prefer the ire of its concessionaries than tell them what “good” will come out of this Prime Water deal.

Next week I will discuss a new factor, already known to Baciwa but kept secret, that may throw a monkey wrench into this deal.