Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink- OPINION BY LEBA SENI NABOU
Water is THE most fundamental basic building block of human life.
According to the US Geological Survey scientific agency who cites Mitchell and others (1945), water composition percentages by parts of the body, are as follows:
1/ brain and heart - 73% water; 2/ the lungs - about 83% water; 3/ the skin - 64% water; 4/ muscles and kidneys - 79% water; and 5/ bones - 31% water.
A human adult body comprises up to 60% water.
Water, and the equitable access to it cuts across power, money or qualifications or social standing.
Whether you are the Prime Minister, the Police Commissioner, an infant, or a person living with disabilities, one day without water would bring us all to our knees.
A few hours without this liquid gold intake into our body's, and not even the finest cut suit can hide how shabby one begins to look.
Yet, there is a great inequality in Fiji where clean, safe and constant water flows.
There are certain residential areas that enjoy the luxury of not worrying if they can put on the kettle for tea whenever they like, while the vast majority suffer and endure frequent, sudden and long water cuts. While others still, have to trek miles to drink and wash from the same untreated natural water sources like rivers.
I am ever grateful that frequent water cuts do not affect me. But where I live is not the greater world.
People we at NFP engage with regularly are being denied a basic constitutional life-giving right. It is simply audacious to think that we can develop as a nation when the majority of our own cannot participate effectively in nation-building and on equal footing, when they are on their knees because they do not have water.
Knowing that water is crucial to human life and human dignity, why then has the scarcity of clean and safe running water become normal, even "business as usual" in Fiji?
Is "Water" an Election issue?
It was nauseating and vanity in action to then observe a new imported CEO of the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), take to the public skewed media houses to attack an NFP proposed candidate, Ms Sashi Kiran, when she highlighted an incident that she witnessed on the ground involving a community's access to water.
The sheer arrogance that is involved when the Head of publicly funded and loan-ridden institution like WAF wades in to shield his line Minister on a primary accountability he owes to the soon-to-be-voting nation, beggars belief.
The CEO claims that Ms Kiran is "misinforming Fijians".
In the first instance, would Fijians trust a new guy in Fiji barking from Suva in a plush air-con office, or a woman whose credible humanitarian service-driven footprint all over the Western division, is without question?
Then he attempts to turn the narrative around and asks politicians not to spread misinformation as his staff would be on the receiving end of public opinion and these are "hardworking men and women who trek through rough terrain, sometimes over days, to install these rural water systems and maintain our infrastructure."
We too fully support WAF staff who work day and night to keep taps on where they can. However, the CEO is stricken with selective amnesia. It was not Ms Kiran who made hundreds of former "hardworking men and women" staff of WAF redundant in 2019 when they unilaterally amended staff contracts and locked them out of their places of employment. It was his organisation and his Board that made that happen.
The CEO forgets that his organisation during that unilateral staffing purge of 2019, lost the key institutional history and knowledge of all WAF infrastructure when they unjustly let people go. These were the people that intimately knew the gaps of their infrastructure, and they knew how to fix it. They had their finger on the pulse and knew population spurts and movements, and they knew where we needed bigger pipes and sources of water.
The CEO also forgets that when he alleges misinformation, he himself has failed the first test of accountability to taxpayers to inform those who pay him and his organisation and expect water to be flowing -- but get air or worse, dirty water instead.
Where are the much delayed WAF Annual Reports? By some miracle, the CEO can find the time to warn politicians, yet he can barely show gratitude to his primary stakeholders and tell taxpayers how he has used public funds and dinau (loans) to do his job. The last Annual Report tabled in Parliament was for the year 2016.
On the WAF web-site there is but a graphic "placeholder" for a 2017 Annual Report, and a note that "2018 and 2019 Annual Reports will be available by Quarter 3, 2021 once audits are complete."
The WAF web-site also hosts a high falluting Strategic Plan that is to run from the years 2020 to 2025, with bold words from its Board Chair and a totally "non-political" (yeah right!) full-paged colour picture of the Prime Minister and smiling children.
Does the WAF CEO think that people are the least bit interested in glowing words and glossy pictures, when their tanks and taps have no running pani, wai or water?
Does the WAF CEO think that taxpayers are getting value for money when $204.3 Million dollars under Head 41, was allocated in the last budget to his organisation, but they can't get water?
If the taxpayers, all our bosses who are set to hire and fire the Leader's they want on 14 December, constantly tell us that their water supply issues are annoying them, then of course it is an election issue.
It is not the WAF CEO who is protecting his line Minister from facing up to public anxiety about their dry taps who determines what is or is not an "election issue". It is the people, it is the people, it is the people!
The Dinau Situation
If we cast our minds back to the giddy "smart loans" obsession of the FF Government, the Asian Development Bank (“ADB”) website details all Fiji loans pertaining to water and other sectors needing help -- like Fiji Airways who acquired a $65 Million dollar loan in March 2021 for a COVID-19 Liquidity Support Facility for Fiji’s Air Pacific Limited, which operates as Fiji Airways and (through its wholly-owned subsidiary) Fiji Link.
The most striking eye-watering loan to upgrade our water infrastructure was done in 2017, in the margins of the global climate change meeting COP23, when the Prime Minister was the President.
The ADB and the Green Climate Fund (“GCF”) loaned Fiji a total investment of US$405 Million to be completed in July 2025, in a "first-ever" joint funding initiative.
This ADB and GCF loan for "Urban Water Supply and Wastewater Management Investment Program" is supposed to benefit more than 300,000 Fijians living in the greater Suva area.
How are we tracking ever since that loan agreement was penned in 2017? That answer is best answered by the people.
The inequality is more glaring when we compare private companies who also use our water as a base ingredient to make products in Fiji like fizzy drinks and other flavoured or distilled liquid products. How can it be that the vast majority go without water, but investors do not face the same challenges? Investment and corporate taxes are welcome but at what cost to the rest of us?
Herein lies the balancing act long forgotten by the FF Government. They have forgotten about the over 693,000 voters, many of those about to vote in a month’s time, who are fed up of waiting for water trucks, reconnections, and for water to flow from their taps. They are not overly impressed by overnight water commissioning events that do not mean that taps will flow tomorrow.
The People Are Waiting!
All we can respectfully suggest to the FF candidates, is that the people are waiting for you. They want answers. They want water. They want to hear you justify how you have used their taxes for their benefit over the last 15 years.
And the electorate are no fools. We are even astounded to be in meetings asking us about FF promises all the way prior to the 2014 elections, and they have lists of questions.
May God be with the FF candidates as they face up to a non-captive, non-cued up Talanoa audience with the prying and prodding of all our bosses who are the taxpayers, in whose name we are all seeking endorsement to lead for.
Leba Seni Nabou is the General Secretary of the National Federation Party.
As published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 12 November 2022