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Mar 23, 2001

WASA deal signed; company now private

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Intense negotiations had been going on for a number of weeks, but today the contract was finally signed, sealed and delivered. The Water and Sewerage Authority is no more and in its place stands a private company, majority owned by foreign investors. The deal is part of government’s overall plan to divest itself of functions that it feels the private sector can do better. WASA is the third major utility to go on the block, following B.T.L. and B.E.L. The sale brought around sixty million Belize dollars into the treasury, almost fifty million of that in hard currency. The new owners of Belize Water Services Limited, with eighty-three percent of its shares, is a European consortium called CASCAL. CASCAL is jointly owned by the British company formerly known as BiWater Capital and a Dutch corporation, Nuon. Both have wide experiences in water and utility management. News 5′s Stewart Krohn spoke to CASCAL’s Roger Webster about what new ownership will mean to Belizeans.

Roger Webster, Dir., of Investment, CASCAL

“Water is a very key element for everybody and I think it’s increasingly very important that that natural resource, which is really quite scare, and potentially, if it’s not looked after, can be very dangerous. It’s a very good transmitter of disease, it needs to be managed and it needs to be managed well. We believe that we are good at providing an efficient good quality service to all the customers.”

Stewart Krohn

“Explain to me why your country can do this better than we can do it for ourselves in terms of cost and quality.”

Roger Webster

“I think again it comes down to experience. The BiWater group for example has over thirty years experience in the water industry, of which the last twelve years, it has been operating water companies around the world. It has water companies in the U.K., Indonesia, Philippines, in South America, Chile, Mexico. So I think there’s huge wealth of experience there.”

“I would say that the existing water company in Belize is really very good compared to a lot of the water companies in Central America. But I think if you bring that experience into that company, you can make it that much better for everybody, and I mean for everybody. I think it’s a question of providing training and passing that experience, that know how, to the staff and that will result in better service to the customers and that’s what it’s all about.”

Stewart Krohn

Speaking of staff, despite your gratuitous compliment there, in terms of Belize, WASA has a reputation of really being the most poorly run of all the traditional utilities, what measures will you be taking to cut down on some of the feather bedding and some of the irregularities and procurement. What kinds of things will you be doing?”

Roger Webster

“I think the big thing in the short term is to look at the systems. I think that system within the company needs a lot of work and basically again, I think it comes back to the same thing. It comes back to experience and applying our experience in other parts of the world here. And I think the big things really are to look at the way the service is provided and that’s where the improvements need to be made. There’s a lot of things that can be done, for example on the administrative side, with increased computerization to have better records, and those are the sort of things we will be concentrating on in the short term and in the short and medium term. There’s a huge capital investment programme which needs to be started and see through in order to expand the services, particularly in sewerage and sewerage treatment.”

Webster said that among the earliest expansion projects will be an improved sewerage system for Belmopan. With regard to rates he said that there are no plans for any increases and as for dividends, he believes the company will produce satisfactory returns, but reminds investors that they are building a foundation for long term success. Those local investors include the Belize Social Security Board, which bought ten percent of the company for six million dollars and approximately fourteen hundred individuals and institutions which bought a total of around three million shares for some four point three million dollars. The largest single purchaser among the group is the Holy Redeemer Credit Union on behalf of its over thirty thousand members. Despite the sale, government retains its golden share and right to appoint the chairman and one director, in this case former WASA chairman Ray Lightburn and Johnny Polack. Attorney Derek Courtenay is a director appointed by CASCAL and serves as company secretary, while Luis Lue is the director appointed by the Social Security Board.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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