The Hon. Spencer Brand, Minister of Water Services in the Nevis Island Administration delivered the following address calling for a greater partnership between the public and private sectors at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) Conference held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort Monday.
Let me first thank the organizers for inviting me to be part of this auspicious occasion where the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for the second time, is hosting the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association 28th Annual Conference and Exhibition under an interesting theme “Securing the Caribbean’s Future – financing the water and waste sector”.
This theme is timely since we have all being experiencing growing water stress and water thirst in our islands, parishes, towns, villages and homes. The interesting thing is that all or most people would agree that water is the most important public good which is necessary for our survival. That is why we often coin the phrase “water is life”.
In addition, we agree that the United Nations Sustainable Goal # 6 of providing clean water and sanitation, is not just a gaol but a basic human right. This is particularly important because it is a gender sensitive issue and it can have impact on our children, youth and older folks positively or negatively.
If all agree to these facts then I would like to tell you that the time for action is now. It is my view that we have reached a tipping point in the water sector, and we need to do less talking and more action together.
We have some common objectives, namely to provide adequate supply of water for our populations at reasonable costs and to ensure that all sections of our populations have access to clean water in our island economies for economic, social, health and political reasons but we also face common challenges while we aim to secure the Caribbean’s future in the area of financing the water and waste sector.
Firstly, most of our governments face high debt levels which are linked to internal factors connected to issues such as high expectations and demands from our population, and to external threats for which we have no control over, such as the negative fall outs from climate change – hurricanes, floods, droughts etc. – which have devastating financial and economic implications as we have witnessed in recent times right here in the Caribbean. These types of external shocks have the potential to push us back into poverty overnight.
Secondly, our small size does not help us. For example, our last census report of 2011 records a population for the island of Nevis at just 12,277, and 34,918 for St. Kitts, giving a combined population for St. Kitts and Nevis at 47,195. This is a problem! Since we depend mainly on two sources to finance our water and waste sectors: 1.Consumers and 2. Government funding (our budgets).
Because of our size and the realistic perception that water is a necessity or a public good, not enough monies are generated from consumers to finance the demand or the supply of new sources of water and the necessary infrastructure.
Moreover, our Caribbean governments depend on private, regional and multilateral organizations to bridge the gap in financing long-term investments in this sector. Therefore, given these realities there are several things we can do together:
Reduce the risks involved in financing this sector by establishing a regional project preparation fund, provide subsidies (and concessions), and provide insurance coverage and any other related incentives to investors.
Our friends from the regional and international funding agencies must look at the financing of the water and waste sector as a global response to the reality of climate change and variability; and hence should make available fast and easily accessible grant funding sources to bridge the gaps in our financing.
Some of the countries in the Caribbean have ‘graduated’ economically (such as St. Kitts and Nevis) but we are all faced with the growing threats of destruction, dislocation and annihilation from the effects of climate change – hurricanes, droughts, floods, extreme heat, sea level rise coupled with rapid coastal erosion, etc.
Regional cooperation is still necessary to overcome the problems of small size and the resulting lack of economies of scale and capacity; to access capital and implement projects effectively and efficiently. It is regional conferences like the CWWA that foster regional cooperation and partnerships to achieve a common goal of securing our future.
We must develop policies and build strong governance institutions to manage this important sector and the financing of it. We have to make our water utilities efficient and effective in collecting revenues, in the development of new sources and the distribution of clean potable water for our populations. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time for us in St. Kitts and Nevis to corporatize our water departments.
New and innovative models in Public Private Partnerships are necessary. The private sector and or “foreign sector” may have the ‘know how’, technology and capacity but the public sector can facilitate investments provided that concessionary or grant funding is quickly provided and easily accessible for our programs and projects.
Over the recent years for example, Nevis has had to establish a Public Private Sector Partnership to increase the supply of water but the government still had to find the financial resources to finance this venture. It is my hope that over the next couple of days that our good friends from the international community can re-examine their approaches to financing this crucial sector so as to assist us to secure the Caribbean’s future.
Our population must be re-educated so that their thinking and behaviour can change with respect to the water conservation and use, to save costs for the household as well as for the economy as a whole.
I conclude by saying welcome to St. Kitts and Nevis, not just to St. Kitts but the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Do enjoy our beauty and charm, and the warm friendliness of our people. We from the Nevis Island Administration and the island of Nevis, look forward to welcoming some of you to Nevis on Friday 18th October for the technical tour.
While you have some fun during the week, please do not lose focus on the seriousness of the times in which we live and the bold decisions we have to make to ensure our survival. I end how I started by simply reiterating that the time for action is now. Let us talk less and do more.