Residents call for resignation of Utilities Minister at APUA picket

People demonstrated with placards outside APUA on Independence Drive yesterday morning (Photo by Makeida Antonio)
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By Makeida Antonio

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Dozens of placard-holding residents participated in a demonstration outside the Antigua Public Utilities Authority’s (APUA) headquarters yesterday.

Citizens lined the opposite side of the street to enable business to continue at APUA’s Independence Drive branch, while calling for Minister of Utilities Robin Yearwood, along with APUA’s General Manager and Water Manager, to resign.

Organiser and United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate for St John’s City South, Franz deFreitas, stressed that the absence of a reliable water supply has long plagued citizens across the country.

And he said he hopes Tuesday’s action will encourage others to voice their displeasure with the state utility firm.

“There are at least a few dozen citizens of Antigua and Barbuda who think that water is a problem. Now, we know that there are thousands of people who are experiencing the problems.

“However, it starts small but, over time, other people will get the courage and want to come out,” deFreitas told Observer yesterday.

Additionally, deFreitas said he believes that frequent demonstrations displaying sentiments felt by the public towards several current issues – such as the uncertainty of water in homes – will inspire the government to make meaningful change.

“I just want to bring attention to the problems that we are having with water in Antigua today. We will continue to bring attention; we will continue to pressure the government and more people will come to the table.

“We want APUA to know that people know there is a problem,” the Observer Voice of the People host said.

Yesterday’s demonstration was the latest in a series organised by deFreitas; others included the government’s controversial vaccine mandate for schoolchildren and the late payment of Social Security pensions.

Also present at Tuesday’s picket was UPP candidate for St Phillip’s North, Alex Browne. He said that some areas in his constituency, such as Willikies, had recently received water after weeks of little to no access to government water.

But he questioned the ability of APUA to reliably provide the service.

“People have said that they’ve finally been able to bathe last night because, I guess, of the planned picket today but we know the water situation.

“People have gone without water for weeks and when you go to people’s homes, all you see is containers for people to catch water.

“One lady said she gets up every morning around 2.30 just to see if she gets water but if she does it comes for an hour or two and then it’s gone,” Browne said in an interview yesterday.

Browne, as well as several other UPP candidates who were present at the picket, suggested water storage facilities need to be improved to combat the ongoing issue of dry pipes.

He said he found it peculiar that residents can purchase private water truck services when APUA’s water service is inconsistent.

“Many years ago, some members of the UPP actually installed several areas to store water and they have not been hooked up to the grid. Some of the water is just poured back into the sea.

“It’s amazing though that while the home owners can’t get water, they can buy. Is that a scam?” Browne asked.

United Progressive Party candidate for St John’s Rural South, Gladys Potter, also spoke to Observer yesterday and expressed concern over the difficulty experienced by senior citizens who may not be able to travel to standpipes and lift buckets of water.

APUA’s Water Business Unit Manager Ian Lewis told Observer his team had plans for 2022, ”which will address a lot of the issues the demonstrators spoke about”.

“Next year should see a vast improvement in our operations,” he added.

Minister Yearwood declined to comment but said he planned to stage a press conference in the new year about the matter.

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