Home Commentary Open forum FROM WHOM WOULD WORKERS BUY WAPA?



To the Source:
I have been hearing and reading about some efforts by some current employees of the Water and Power Authority to purchase the utility. Who would they be purchasing the utility from? They claim the employees are entitled to own the utility. Are the employees of WAPA not members of this community? As members of this community, which is governed by democratic principles, WAPA employees are also represented by the government. In other words, the employees of WAPA, like all other citizens, already have a stake in this government that owns WAPA.
Water and Power Authority employees as a part of the people of the Virgin Islands already "own" WAPA, J.J. Estemac writes. But he says the utility needs privatization and outside money.
While it sounds very romantic to own a utility, the reality is that it takes capital, a lot of capital, to operate a utility efficiently. That is the reason that two consecutive administrations have sought to privatize WAPA. I support that move, if not the specifics of the last proposed sale. I believe the government, which is all citizens, should retain at least 20 percent interest, and that another 20 percent should be retained by local residents, to include labor unions.
I believe that would allay most of the fears expressed by some concerned residents. I believe it would also give the investors the control they would need to protect their investments.
An alternative which I also favor is leasing the utility's assets for at least 25 years or until the investors recover their investment and attain the scheduled profit. The advantage of this alternative is that 100 percent of the assets are retained by the government.
Let us be realistic in how we approach all of our critical problems. Most of us acknowledge we have a "brain drain" in our community. We further acknowledge that the present crisis in our government, and the local economy in general, is not attractive for our expatriates who might consider returning to the territory.
We therefore have to make the best use of all the human and material resources available in our community. We need to set aside our prejudices and use all the talented persons among us, regardless of where they came from.
WAPA has shown some marked improvements in many areas, most noticeably in the reduction of outages. However, there is a need to expand the water distribution system throughout the territory. WAPA needs to broaden the customer base to maximize income and profits. That takes capital. The money owed by government departments and agencies can provide some of the needed capital.
J.J. Estemac
St. Thomas


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