Hon. Kelvin Simon tells Gaston Browne to stop the water politics: “You Can’t Carry Water in a Basket” 

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Hon. Kelvin “Shugy” Simon (Photo courtesy Wayne Mariette)
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It was extremely upsetting to learn last week that Esworth Martin, the General Manager of Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), has become the latest scapegoat in the “water politics game”. 

According to Gaston Browne, APUA’s Water Business Unit is the biggest threat to his government. But if the issue is about performance, shouldn’t Gaston and his entire Cabinet have been fired long ago? Why is it that only APUA management is being penalized?

What about the previous Minister Hon. Robin Yearwood, one of the longest-serving Utilities Ministers in the Caribbean and current Chairman of the APUA? Where is the blame for the current Minister, Hon. Melford Nicholas for his gross incompetence? Why are these Ministers, as well as the APUA Board, who were all appointed by Gaston Browne still in office? 

Esworth Martin is a proud son of St. Mary’s South and has served both the UPP and ABLP administrations well. So why has it taken almost 10 years for Gaston Browne to suddenly discover Martin’s incompetence?

Gaston Browne continues to demoralize the APUA staff, by making unsubstantiated accusations of sabotage. He continues to malign, misinform and mislead the public about their capabilities. Yet many of these same APUA staff members have held these positions since the UPP Administration. When Browne claimed almost 10 years ago that he could fix the water problem in 14 days, did he not intend to do so with the help of Martin and his staff? 

During the general elections, Gaston Browne accused APUA staff of interfering with the water supply to influence votes in certain parts of the country, with the intention of making the ABLP look bad.

If UPP had so much support among the APUA staff, why did these same employees allow the water problems to occur prior to the 2014 elections in the first place? Gaston Browne is delusional. First, the water problem was due to UPP’s gross incompetence. Now after 10 years, having failed to address the water issues, the problem is now Esworth Martin.

Mr. Martin was served by a police officer with papers that terminated his employment with the APUA. Why was it necessary to humiliate a public servant in this most egregious manner?

During the by-election in St. Mary’s South, Gaston Browne also described how he got the police to go to an employee’s home to ensure that valves were turned on the day of the by-election.

To him, it was critical that voters had water on election day. Our PM really expected that because the water was turned on, people would forget about the many days prior when they went without water. Our PM really does not understand the people of St. Mary’s South and what we stand for. 

But the ABLP only pays attention to water when there is an election looming. For them, water and elections go hand in hand. During the last general elections, we saw citizens being forced to go back to life in the 1960s, chasing water trucks, or lining up at standpipes with buckets to get water. We also saw many ABLP politicians enter the lucrative water trucking market. 

The ABLP has invested millions of dollars in reverse osmosis plants, and they have little improvements to show for it. They now want to buy water and privatize APUA, but they have failed to lay out a comprehensive solution to ease the deplorable water supply that has plagued Antiguans and Barbudans for all these years. 

An audit of the monies spent by APUA to fix the water problems is warranted. I encourage all citizens and residents to demand public consultations on the water crisis – a proposal that has been advanced by Leader of the Opposition Hon. Jamale Pringle.

The UPP is suggesting that the Lower House appoint a Select Committee – on which members of the Government and the Opposition would sit – and convene public discussions with officials from APUA. Out of this collaboration, greater transparency would emerge as Members of Parliament would have an opportunity to discuss comprehensive solutions to address the challenges of delivering pipe-borne water regularly. This is how you hold the government accountable. 

We need the support of the people in demanding greater accountability from the government about the water crisis. I look forward to returning to Parliament to be a part of these important deliberations to help identify the best solutions to improve our water management and help move St. Mary’s South and the entire nation forward. We cannot fix the water problem by just blaming others. Removing Esworth Martin will not address the problem, while the Minister and the APUA Board remain in place.

Gaston Browne said in 2014 that the water crisis is of a different age. I challenge Gaston Browne to immediately engage all stakeholders to find modern solutions to address the water crisis and to desist from making it a personal issue. If APUA workers like Esworth Martin did not sabotage UPP in 2014, what would be their motive to sabotage their country in 2023? Maybe our PM will now accept that the water crisis was not merely a UPP performance issue, but a crisis that requires a vision and national collaboration. 

Maybe Gaston Browne will finally admit that the country’s water problem cannot be fixed in 14 days, given the severity of the crisis that our country has faced for years.

Residents of St. Mary’s South and thousands of Antiguans and Barbudans, go without water for days on end. Schedule or no schedule, people are just not getting water. But what they do get is high water bills. This water crisis must end. But you cannot expect any different results if we continue to give APUA staff “a basket to carry water.” I am calling on Gaston Browne to stop engaging in childish political blame games. We need water, not politics!

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