Group slams BACIWA’s alleged lack of transparency

BACOLOD CityAmlig Tubig, a multisectoral organization focused on water issues, recently convened to discuss its apprehension over the joint venture between Bacolod City Water District (BACIWA) and Prime Water Infrastructure Corp.

Led by Lenny Espina of the BACIWA Employees Union, Lourdes Alpers representing the consumers, Fr. Chris Gonzales of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Bacolod, and City Councilor Jun Gamboa, the organization criticized the proposal’s terms and evaluated its implications for Bacolodnons.

Among the topics tackled at the gathering was the Swiss Challenge held by the BACIWA Joint Venture Selection Committee, headed by Engineer Samuel Penado, for the joint venture. The JVSC publicly opened the submissions of one of the bidders to determine if it had passed the requirements for eligibility.

The group expressed concern over the overall negotiation process, which were conducted privately. Since the conclusion of the challenge, the board has remained silent on the results, purportedly attributing the delay to its pending decision in a move strongly condemned by Amlig Tubig.

“They said the results would take about a week to be released,” said Councilor Wilson “Jun” Gamboa from Amlig Tubig. “It’s been several weeks, and we are still left without answers.”

As early as July, the coalition had been lobbying for transparency in the form of public announcements and bulletins about the developments in the negotiation process. In response, BACIWA claimed that the NEDA guidelines do not oblige them to inform the public of the proposal’s progress.

“We demand transparency because it is our right as consumers and citizens of Bacolod to know the activities of our water district,” said Christian Weber, a representative from Amlig Tubig.

Submissions to the Swiss Challenge were propped against Prime Water’s, whose proposal was deemed by Amlig Tubig to be disadvantageous to the city.

“As stated in Prime Water’s proposal, consumers are expected to shoulder the excess fees incurred by the partnership,” said Councilor Gamboa. According to him, the terms of reference was vaguely phrased in an attempt to conceal that the charges will be shouldered by consumers in the joint venture.

With a private proponent assuming management, the consumer group expressed their apprehension about the uncertain future faced by BACIWA employees, as the joint venture is said to replace most of them with Prime Water’s own.

Councilor Gamboa also pointed out that the proposal lists Prime Water’s contribution as only 2.3 billion pesos, although the BACIWA board chairman, Atty. Lorenzo Dilag, revealed that the contract price would be no less than 5 billion pesos.

“We are alarmed that the joint venture will give an income of 35 million for BACIWA for the first 5 years with a gradual increase. Right now, BACIWA already takes in 80 million pesos a year. Why, then, would BACIWA accept a proposal that gives them much less money than they are already making?” he questioned. “As you can see, there are many suspicious factors at play here and we’re getting no answers to our questions.”

Exacerbating the issue is Amlig Tubig’s apprehension that the bidder, a reputable water company, maybe unjustly disqualified in favor of Prime Water. The final results are reportedly set to be released next week. Should Amlig Tubig’s fears come true, Prime Water will emerge as the winning bidder despite much opposition from consumers, and despite having a questionable proposal.

Amlig Tubig raised concern over the political influence carried by Villar-owned Prime Water that may have been utilized in the negotiation process. Prime Water is involved in water distribution in approximately 127 towns and municipalities.

BACIWA has been the center of controversy for nearly a year since Prime Water proposed a joint venture for the management and operation of the water district. The bid proved highly unpopular, as citizens vehemently opposed it, citing the disadvantages in the proposal and criticized the lack of transparency.

Given the overall lack of public consultation and the board’s insistence at keeping the proposal’s details confidential, citizens have doubted the fairness of the joint venture and its Swiss Challenge.

BACIWA and Prime Water began negotiations in February 2019, with the private proponent officially passing the negotiation stage later that year on July 10, 2019.