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Dread times ahead

It has been reported in the media that people and businesses are stealing water. Illegal connections to the main water supply are apparently on the rise.

The loss of revenue to the Water Authority however is the least cause for concern considering that if people are reduced to stealing the cheapest public utility on this island then we have much bigger problems.

With the cost of electricity being what it is nowadays then we may see people being ready to risk life and limb to keep the refrigerator working if they have anything left to store in it. I now get down from my soapbox to address the law.

If one has been paying any attention then it would be clear by now that the law governs and is interwoven in everything we do. In that vein, the Water Authority is established by section 4 of the Barbados Water Authority Act, Chapter 274A and is charged with the responsibilities of identifying, managing, allocating and monitoring our water resources as well as developing and reviewing “the quality, reliability and availability of water supply and sewerage services and the rates to be charged for these services” amongst other related matters.

Most importantly, by section 6 the authority “unless prevented by drought or other extraordinary event or unavoidable accident” is required to “provide to the public a supply of potable water for domestic purposes and a potable or otherwise satisfactory supply of water for agricultural, industrial and commercial purposes…”

Since the 1854 cholera outbreak in Barbados it would have been made patently obvious to the nation that an adequate supply of water is necessary for the prevention of disease and the limitation of its transmission once contracted.

To that end, the public duties of the BWA would fall within the exemptions outlined in the Constitution in relation to relief from arbitrary search and entry by the State. Section 13 provides that the “Authority, its employees and agents may … at any time that is reasonable in the circumstances enter into any premises or into any road and make such surveys, examinations, investigations, inspections or other arrangements as it considers necessary”.

Of course, compensation must be paid for any damage caused to the property as a result of their actions and according to section 16, the premises or roads which have been “disturbed” during their works must be “restored to their original condition [my emphasis] without unnecessary delay”. Clearly section 16 has been quite loosely interpreted by the authority.

The penalty outlined in section 27 for swimming or bathing, polluting or diminishing the public supply of water is a fine of $1,000 plus $100 for each day the offence continues after criminal conviction and/or 12 months imprisonment. These penalties remain the same since October 1980 when the Act came into effect.

Public utilities come at a cost which someone must pay. It makes no sense saying the government can pay it since the government gets its money from the pockets of the people through taxation. In respect of any premises, section 30 provides that the Barbados Water Authority can recover the cost of the water supplied from either the owner or occupier of the property or both of them.

In other words both a landlord and the tenant would be liable for the water used no matter what agreement they have made between themselves. In the final analysis however, outstanding payments for water act as “a lien and charge” (like a mortgage) on the land to which the supply is connected and the authority may seize and sell the property to recover the debt.

The Water Services Regulations passed in 1982 supplement the act and better define the responsibilities and rights of the consumer. Regulation 8 only requires the authority to bill for water supplied every three months but the consumer must pay within 30 days failing which the supply may be disconnected without notice to the consumer.

In the event that a person, for example a tenant, leaves one house without paying the bill and moves to another, Regulation 9 allows the authority to withhold the supply of water to the new premises or disconnect it unless and until the arrears are settled. An illegal connection under Regulation 18 is punishable by a fine of $500 or imprisonment for three months.

In 2012 the Office of Public Counsel of the Fair Trading Commission was reported as describing the authority as “untouchable” and new regulations were to be developed which would improve the level of service provided.

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