CAGAYAN de Oro City--Leaders of the largest business group in Northern Mindanao are pushing for the privatization of the city’s lone water utility, the state-owned Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD).
Apparently galvanized by the remarks of economist Bernardo Villegas, leaders of Oro Chamber predicted that the distribution of potable water in the city would be more efficient if it would be operated privately.
Villegas, who guested Oro Chamber’s first quarter meeting Friday night at N Hotel, said that government should focus on the provision of public services and should leave profit-making activities such as the operation of utilities to the private sector.
Citing Cagayan de Oro’s status as a highly urbanized city, Villegas said it could certainly copy the practice of Metro Manila where the provision of water is split between two private utilities - Maynilad and Manila Water - after the government-operated Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) turned over its operations to the private sector in the 1990s.
“History tells us that NAWASA has never been efficient in its operations,” Villegas said. He was referring to the defunct National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority which operated water utilities in the country in the past.
Here in Cagayan de Oro, the task of providing water was transferred to COWD in 1973 per a presidential decree.
Villegas’ remarks came at a time when three councilors sounded alarm on an alleged pattern of Metro Pacific Water Investments Corporation to privatize water districts in the country.
Councilors Teodulfo Lao, Enrico Salcedo and Reuben Daba feared that water rates would skyrocket if it is placed in the hands of the private sector.
Since January, MWIC has been supplying bulk water to COWD at P16 per cubic meter or 53 percent higher than what the utility’s previous supplier charged it.
MWIC is under the umbrella of Metro Pacific Holdings, which is owned by the Pangilinan family magnate.
Oro Chamber past president Elpidio Paras welcomed Villegas’ remarks, saying that COWD is “saddled by a lot of politics.”
According to Presidential Decree 98, the Cagayan de Oro City mayor appoints the directors of COWD but only the Ombudsman could remove them.
Mayor Oscar Moreno, who listened to Villegas’ remarks, said it is not yet the appropriate time to privatize COWD.
“We can’t shortcut the process. We must first decrease non-revenue water before entertaining such plan,” Moreno said.
COWD has a high rate of non-revenue water, far beyond the Local Water Utilities Administration’s (LWUA) cap.
For now, the COWD is being assisted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its quest to lower non-revenue water.
During Friday’s affair, Moreno added that Metro Pacific’s interest to invest in COWD “is already a good sign.”
Last year, Metro Pacific representatives verbally told the six-person COWD board that they are interested in privatizing the utility.
But COWD chair Eduardo Montalvan told them that the utility is not interested.
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