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May 31, 2005

Cayo villagers battle over water

Story PictureIt’s a quiet community out west. Nestled in the Cayo foothills, Santa Familia boasts well-maintained, spacious yards and easy-going country living. But things are far from perfect in this laid back village as a battle is brewing over a precious resource: water. In a mini imitation of B.T.L., it seems that there are two Water Boards in Santa Familia: one elected by residents, the other appointed by government. Sounds like a recipe for disaster and this afternoon News Five’s Patrick Jones travelled west to gain a better perspective on the problem.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
This is what the quarrel is all about – potable water for the villagers of Santa Familia. Members of the community’s Water Board today met with a representative of the Rural Development Department, a meeting that was suppose to have been the handing over of control of the water system to a new Belmopan blessed board. But the villagers would have none of it, and the government emissary was turned away empty-handed.

David Cabb, Chairman, Santa Familia Water Board
“But prior to today, we met with the people of Santa Familia at two o?clock on Sunday last. And since we were elected by them, they said you are in no authority to give to Mr. Cowo what belongs to us. We elected you and you are responsible to us. To Mr. Cowo and the Rural Development Department, yes, they are due a report of the finances that we earn and how we spend it.?

Patrick Jones
?So when will you give them that report??

David Cabb
?We have already signed it and it is about to go this week.?

The villagers are upset at what they say is the way the area representative Ainslie Leslie and the Ministry of Rural Development are trying to impose a new Water Board on the community. After allegations of mismanagement by the previous board, and the inability of the water system to provide clean drinking water for the community’s sixteen hundred residents, Chairman of the Village Council says they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Domingo Chinchilla, Chairman, Santa Familia
?So the people decided, let?s change this Water Board. They support it a hundred percent. And then after that the representative, it look like he never like it and he appointed a new Water Board, which the people never satisfied with. So the people elected a new Water Board, and this is the new Water Board that I am supporting, the new Water Board that we have here in Santa Familia.?

Patrick Jones
The situation is that the Ministry of Local Government does not recognize this board. Can the village continue to operate without having a legitimate Board in place?

Domingo Chinchilla
?Well I think that will be a big problem. But I would like to ask the government and the ministry in charge of that to please give Santa Familia an opportunity so that we can go ahead drinking good water, and in all times. Not like the past that we had a problem that every time you go to the pipes it?s just like you open a tank of mud.”

The problem started two months ago, when the Ministry of Local Government wrote letters to several members of the village informing them that they were being appointed to the Water Board. Cabb says when they realized what was being done, the villagers decided to dig in their heels to clean up their own water system.

David Cabb
“Since taking over on the third of April, the quality of water that we are supplying to the people is clean, is pure. We have already gotten, through Paulette Robinett the Assistant Chairman to the Board, four kits to test the water and we are in the process right now to get another kit to test for bacteria in it. When the water was tested there was some sediment, but after the sediments settled, the water was found to be drinkable.”

But the bigger problem right now is that Cabb legally has no ground to stand on. But with the people’s support, is taking a stand… all in the name of serving his community.

David Cabb
?We have a mandate from the people. They elected us to serve them and we will serve them diligently, faithfully, trustworthily. We give them a monthly finance report. Whenever we meet as a Board, we extend the invitation to any member of the community to be present.”

Villagers say they don’t want it to appear to the rest of the country that they are out to circumvent the law and they are taking steps to correct the situation by offering an olive branch to the area representative and the government, but somehow the gesture has fallen on deaf ears.

David Cabb
?We are writing the Ministry of Local Government expressing our concern, as well as a letter signed by the majority of the households here in Santa Familia. If I am not mistaken, so far we have two hundred and twenty names requesting him to recognize us as the official Water Board for Santa Familia.?

Patrick Jones
?Mr. Cabb is politics playing a role in this dispute in this village??

David Cabb
?I would say yes; definitely yes. From the moment we were elected, rumours started spreading that we were U.D.P. It is not so. We in this Board are non-partisan. We have our own political beliefs, yes. We are honest, all Belizeans do. But it stays on voting day. Right now, what we are all for is service to our people, and in this case providing one of the essential elements for living, and that is water.”

Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Cabb says he plans to submit financial reports to the Ministry of Rural Development later this week. Whether they will accept the documents is not certain, because as the villagers maintain, government is flatly refusing to recognize the Cabb-led board. Residents who spoke with News Five today said that the chairman appointed by G.O.B. has since left the community, and the deputy has indicated that he is not willing to become embroiled in a fight over control of the water system. News Five’s attempts to contact the Rural Development Officer for Cayo have been unsuccessful as no one answered the listed telephone number.

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