MANAGING a public utility company is not a walk in the park. Aside from government regulators, the customers, concessionaires, or consumers of those companies also serve as their direct regulators such that the rules of service are scrutinized every time a public utility company transacts with any of its clients.
As publicly reported, the Commission on Audit has disallowed certain payments by the COWD to its bulk water supplier that runs to more than a hundred million pesos. That will never be a walk in the park.
Who will be liable for the disallowed payments if and when the COA disallowance becomes a final – the managers and directors of the COWD who were involved in crafting the questioned contract with Rio Verde? Well maybe, but ultimately it will be the concessionaires who will suffer the expected consequence – poor water service.
We have been used to a continuous flow of water into our homes, though briefly. But we have also recently experienced the “low pressure to no water” condition of the water service from the COWD, especially concessionaires living in the western part of the service area. And it’s not easy for consumers.
A light at the end of the tunnel could be the call for the conversion of the COWD into a cooperative. While the call sounds attractive, it will help the concessionaires fully understand what it is if the proponents could elaborate more than just “concessionaires becoming owners” of the water firm.
Will the entry of more than one bulk water supplier solve the water woes in the service area of the COWD? On the supply side, probably. But what about the price? Will competition among bulk suppliers guarantee lower rates?
Our experience with the electric power sector does not say so. When the power industry was restructured, we were told that power rates will trickle down because of competition among power generators. It was not so. Instead, layers of charges were embedded into the power rates to the disadvantage of the end users whose only recourse is to literally light a candle.
Power is generated using a machine and all the works. Water is not. It has to be extracted from our own community backyard or transported from elsewhere. With abundant supply, will water rates decrease? Well, it will mostly depend on the cost at which the water service provider procures his supply for distribution.
Public utility companies have to be good at balancing acts. Exorbitant rates could increase nonevenue water or power consumption, or drive consumers to alternative means, e.g., deep well water sources, or island mode power generation which will directly compete with providers.
But then again, please get your act together. The concessionaires or end users have suffered enough.
(Egay Uy is a lawyer, and the chairman of the city’s Task Force Hapsay Dalan.)