Thursday, January 18, 2018

WASA doesn’t have $$ invest in recycling plant

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) does not have the money to invest in the Beetham Water Recycling Plant.  

That’s the defence from president of the National Gas Company (NGC) Indar Maharaj, who is also the chairman of WASA, on the company’s decision to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to sole bidders (a main contractor with sub-contractors) for the Design & Build and Operation & Maintenance of the Beetham Water Recycling Plant together with the associated Pipelines and Water Storage Facilities. 

Maharaj was responding to questions by the Sunday Express at the launch of the company’s Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) programme at NGC’s offices in Point Lisas last Saturday. 

Maharaj was questioned on NGC’s decision to issue a RFP when the project had originally been designated as a WASA initiative. 

In February, WASA signed a US$246 million loan agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for local wastewater management which included water recycling for industrial use. 

At that time, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh had said that water reused from the Beetham Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) would be directed to the Point Lisas Industrial Estate. 

But that is also Maharaj’s rationale for NGC’s involvement. He said the water recycling plant “is water for industrial uses”.

“It’s for companies that are in the energy-related business and NGC is in energy and energy related business,” he said. Maharaj said the industries suffered after the country suffered a drought in 2009 because WASA had to decide “whether we wanted to give water to industry or to give people water to drink”.

When the Sunday Express asked for a definitive response on why NGC was embarking on this project and not WASA, given the dual caps he wears, Maharaj said: “WASA is also involved to the extent that WASA will be buying the water from NGC. WASA does not have the money to invest in the project. All of these people who would be getting the water are NGC customers so it is also securing NGC’s business.”

Sunday Express: “Isn’t there a conflict with you being the chairman of WASA and the president of NGC?”

Indar Maharaj: “Why should there be?”

Sunday Express: “Because WASA will be customer of NGC with this proposed project.”

Indar Maharaj: “Again, both WASA and NGC are State companies so you really talking about the left hand and the right hand. It’s not like it’s going to be getting into the private sector hands or anything like that. It is basically two State companies partnering together. Look for the positives sometimes. Here it is an initiative which should be commended for what it is, but it is not being seen as that. How could you see conflict in two State enterprises getting together to do something?” 

Maharaj argued that NGC sells natural gas to other State enterprises as well as purchases fuel from National Petroleum (NP) which is a State enterprise as well. 

When the Sunday Express contacted Singh for a comment, he said that did not speak to “reporters with agendas” and refused to be briefed on the line of query. 

He accused the Sunday Express of already writing a story and seeking his comment as a courtesy. 

When the Sunday Express sought to explain that it concerned the wastewater and water recycling plant, Singh responded: “Wastewater has been around for years, it is interesting that you should now want to write about it.” However, he gave an undertaking to respond to e-mailed questions which the Sunday Express sent to him.

Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley, in his budget reply in Parliament last Friday, called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to halt what he described as an “incestuous scam” between WASA and NGC.

“It just so happens the chairman of WASA, Indar Maharaj, who is requesting the works, is also the CEO of NGC, who will be managing the tender process on behalf of WASA,” said Dr Rowley who described the project as a “feeding trough”. 

WASA already operates the Beetham Wastewater Treatment Plant which treats water for domestic use. 

Maharaj was also asked if he felt the company was moving away from its traditional role of being a middleman between the upstream energy companies and downstream energy companies for the sale of natural gas. 

In his view, the company is diversified as is evidenced by Cabinet’s approval for it to embark on a $500 million initiative to introduce Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) throughout the country. To this end, NGC has set up a subsidiary company— NGC CNG to oversee the project which will see the construction of 22 stations at $125 million, the financing of converting 17,528 vehicles at $320 million, a public education and marketing campaign at $20 million, the provision of three mobile CNG stations at $20 million, foreign and technical support at $10 million and a system to support unmanned stations at $5 million. 

“One of our mandates is to grow the market for local gas and when you look at the straight economics to country, what it is, moving into liquid fuels and getting into gas, it makes a lot of sense,” Maharaj said. 

“We felt if we can put $500 million into this thing and save the country about one-and-a-half billion (dollars) a year, you can’t go wrong,” he said.

Asked whether it made economic sense for NGC given that the return on the investment was 15 per cent over ten years, he responded: “Fifteen per cent over ten years for businesses like these are very attractive returns. Most of the people outside there probably do business with a 12 per cent return. This kind of business, you don’t get 40 per cent return. That is probably good for small business. These kind of business, you look for good solid returns over a long period of time.”

Attempts to reach Maharaj by phone yesterday were unsuccessful. The NGC had earlier told the Sunday Express it would facilitate an interview with Maharaj in response to Rowley’s comments but this newspaper was later told the interview would be facilitated tomorrow.