Can a priest ensure clean-up of MWSS
President Aquino has appointed Rev. Jose Ramon Villarin, S.J., newly installed president of the Ateneo de Manila Univesrsity (ADMU), as a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). On one hand, the appointment raises hope that MWSS can now cleansed itself of its many irregularities and anomalies. But it is also possible that Father Villarin’s presence may be used by MWSS and its two concessionaires to “deodorize” their corruption and collusion.
According to a recent report submitted to Congress on Sept. 5, 2011, the MWSS legacy of corruption has cost government at least P25 billion in ill-advised, graft-ridden infrastructure projects, unconstitutional sales of government properties in La Mesa Dam and Balara, uncollected Maynilad concession fees, and other corrupt practices. MWSS also colluded with both concessionaires to burden Metro Manila water consumers with at least P15 billion in unjustified rate increases while risking public health with insufficient sewerage improvements.
The revelation made in the 2010 State of the Nation Address by P-Noy himself that MWSS directors paid themselves scandalous salaries, bonuses and allowances was thus only the tip of the iceberg.
Worth noting also is that then President Gloria Arroyo twice intervened directly in MWSS operations. First, she overruled a Supreme Court decision for Maynilad to pay MWSS P8.5 billion in concession fees, allowing the sum to be converted into MWSS equity in Maynilad, together with the entry of new owners. Second, without any public hearing, she extended the concession terms from 2022 to 2037, despite the fact that the concessionaires had performed dismally in delivering their contractual obligations in the 1997 privatization. Only 60 percent of Metro Manila is now receiving water service (versus a 100 percent commitment by 2007) and only 20 percent of the sewerage infrastructure has been completed. Given Arroyo’s track record, the possibility that more irregularities attended those interventions is not farfetched.
Note that MWSS had to float $150 million worth of bonds through Paribas in March 2004 to cover operating cash shortages caused by the Maynilad default in the payment of concession fees. The proximity to the Hello Garci 2004 election of that fund availment raises the possibility that these two events might be related. And the fact that the notes have matured (these were to be paid by the national government in March 2011) also makes it possible that the government now owns 63 percent of Maynilad if Paribas drew on the sovereign guarantee.
Meantime, Metro Manila water consumers suffer under oppressive water rate increases even as they are exposed to health hazards by improper and inadequate sewerage. It is hoped that the entry of Father Villarin can help consumers get a refund and force MWSS to properly regulate its errant concessionaires.
We wish Father Villarin all the best!
—JOSE OSIAS, [email protected]
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