FIJI GOVERNMENT TO SET UP SEPARATE WATER AGENCY

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug. 31) – There has been a mixed reaction to the interim Government's promulgation of the Water Authority.

Consumer Council of Fiji chief executive Premila Kumar said their stance had not changed.

"The council fully supports the idea of a separate entity to look after the needs of consumers," Ms Kumar said.

She said there was much debate on whether the new water body should be privatised or corporatised.

Ms Kumar said they supported moves to corporatise water services because the government entity looking after it would have a clear focus and direction in solving the crisis.

She said the argument was whether the authority should remain a government entity.

"But this has not shown any development in respect to water development," she said.

She said they were confident the move would bring benefits.

Ms Kumar said consumers faced problems like the water billing system, faulty meters which took sometimes a year to fix and intermittent water supply.

Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive Reverend Akuila Yabaki said the interim administration was implementing a plan which was already in the mind of the ousted Laisenia Qarase-led Government, which he believed to be Asian Development Bank-funded."But in the absence of elected democratic process how does one ensure consultation on a matter of such enormous significance," Rev Yabaki said. "This could become perhaps the most significant decision this interim cabinet will have to make, as water supply is to do with people's daily livelihood."

Rev Yabaki said water was a basic essential service.

"Accountability measures are important. Any move towards re-organisation has to be accountable to those affected by its decisions."

He said protection of the interests of the most vulnerable in society should be uppermost.

"Will the poor be able to afford corporatised water bills. "I know there is a price to be paid for improved services," he said.

In an earlier statement, interim Public Enterprise Minister Poseci Bune said moves to corporatise water supply would take shape over the next six to eight months following the promulgation of the Water Authority of Fiji gazetted last week.

He said the move was not an effort to privatise water. The measure was the result of numerous problems customers endured over the past few years, compounded by State bureaucratic systems.

"The corporatisation of water supply aims to reduce and eliminate widespread operational inefficiencies in recent years and improve the quality of water," Mr Bune had said. "Tariffs will not be increased but the new Water Authority of Fiji will have to review tariffs for commercial and high volume users at some stage and is most likely to do so three to four years after the authority has been up and running.

"Privatisation means totally disposing all or part of government shares and control of a particular entity to the private sector. This is not the case with the Water Authority of Fiji, which, although is set up outside the ambit of government, is still within government's control," he said.

Mr Bune said the interim Government had put in place a corporate structure to ensure the Water Authority of Fiji provided quality and timely delivery of water and other services.

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