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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, November 29, 2019
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Baciwa joint venture fears raised


Members of the Amlig Tubig, a multi-sectoral organization focused on water issues, expressed their apprehension for the joint venture between Bacolod City Water District and Prime Water Infrastructure Corporation, a press release form the group said.

Led by Baciwa Employees Union president Lenny Espina; Lourdes Alpers, representing the consumers, Fr. Chris Gonzales of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Bacolod, and City Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr., the organization criticized the proposal’s terms and evaluated its implications for Bacolodnons, the press release said.

Among the topics tackled during their meeting was the Swiss Challenge held by the Baciwa Joint Venture Selection Committee, headed by Samuel Penado, for the joint venture, it said.

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, the press release said.

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 progress of the proposal.

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

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. The terms of reference were vaguely phrased in an attempt to conceal that the charges will be shouldered by consumers in the joint venture, Gamboa said.

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, he said.

Gamboa also pointed out that the proposal lists Prime Water’s contribution as only P2.3 billion, although Baciwa board chairman Lorenzo Dilag, revealed that the contract price would be no less than P5 billion.

“We are alarmed that the joint venture will give an income of P35 million to Baciwa for the first five years with a gradual increase. Right now, Baciwa already takes in P80 million a year. Why, then, would BACIWA accept a proposal that gives them much less money than they are already making?” he asked.

Exacerbating the issue is Amlig Tubig’s apprehension that the bidder, a reputable water company, may be 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 its management and operation. The bid proved highly unpopular, as citizens vehemently opposed it, citing the disadvantages in the proposal, and also the lack of transparency.

Given the over-all lack of public consultation, and the board’s insistence on 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, with the private proponent officially passing the negotiation stage on July 10.*


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