PrimeWater not seeking to buy MCWD

PRIMEWATER Infrastructure Corp.—cited as the cause of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s moves to oust Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) Chairman Jose Daluz III from the water utility—has denied that it intends to privatize MCWD.

In a press statement dated June 22, 2023, PrimeWater said what the private company does is merely to pursue “partnerships” with local government units and local water districts to enhance the water supply systems in their jurisdictions.

Last month, Daluz had said his rejection of a proposal from a private firm to privatize MCWD, a government-owned and -controlled corporation, was what prompted Rama to move for his ouster, initially, from the chairmanship, then later, from the board of directors itself.

Last June 15, Cebu City Legal Officer Jerone Castillo recommended the removal of Daluz and board members Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno from MCWD, citing the Sept. 21, 2022 petition for their removal filed by the MCWD Employees Union and its Executive Board before the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas over the deteriorating income of MCWD and their failure to meet the water needs of the utility’s customers, among other things; as well as the Feb. 27, 2023 opinion of Government Corporate Counsel Rogelio V. Quevedo that the MCWD board’s approval of three bulk water supply projects in Mactan, Cebu was “irregular,” detrimental to government and a violation of the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

The three board members are appointees of Rama’s predecessor, the late mayor Edgardo Labella.

However, Daluz said the real reason they were being eased out was their opposition to MCWD’s privatization, which he said Rama was promoting.

Rama last Tuesday denied he was endorsing the company owned by billionaire Manuel Villar Jr. to privatize the water district.

A day earlier, board member Seno had told SunStar Cebu that in a meeting at Rama’s house in Barangay Guadalupe last Feb. 16, PrimeWater president Fe Rebanco had spoken to MCWD executives and board members about retirement packages, as well as asked for administrative and technical information about MCWD.

The next day, PrimeWater representatives presented to MCWD directors and executives a joint venture proposal, which Daluz called “really a total takeover,” as he said it involved the retirement of 80 percent of MCWD’s workforce and PrimeWater’s operation of the water district, including the collection of fees.

In its statement, however, PrimeWater said that in Metro Cebu, the firm presented its credentials with the aim of starting discussions on “potential joint development” for the city’s water security requirements.

It said it sent a formal letter of intent to MCWD and in so doing sought the opportunity to be furnished more data “to confirm these requirements” and to determine whether potential joint development activities would be feasible for all parties involved.

“The company’s public-private partnerships involve joint development of the water distribution and supply systems via joint venture with existing stakeholders, whether local government units or local water districts,” PrimeWater said.

While under its joint development initiatives, PrimeWater “finances and implements the construction, development and operation of critical infrastructure to support, supplement and enhance a local water system operator’s existing assets, the company does not in so doing engage in outright purchase or full privatization of such assets,” PrimeWater said.

In its presentation to MCWD officials last February, PrimeWater showed that it already had joint ventures with 75 water districts all over the country.