THE ongoing disputes at Cagayan de Oro Water District (Cowd) have already attracted scrutiny from the City Council.

The City Council separately summoned the warring sides to an inquiry that will culminate with the employee union and Cowd’s top officials seeing eye to eye.

Councilor Ian Nacaya, head of the utility committee, said the investigation seeks to avert a potential water crisis by threshing out the root of discord between the Fist Labor Union of Cowd (Flow) and the water district’s Board of Directors, including the water utility’s interim general manager.

At the committee’s inquiry last Friday, Flow officials made it clear that their ongoing protest was directed at the irregularities inside the water district not to demand for salary increase, as reportedly being spread upon among water consumers.

Nacaya said the Board of Directors and Interim General Manager Proceso Pag-ong Jr. will be given equal opportunity to rebut the allegations this Wednesday.

After hearing both sides, Nacaya said the probe will conclude with a joint appearance of the employee union officers, the Board and Pag-ong, in a bid to settle the “differences” of the parties.

The probe should not be construed as “meddling”, the councilor said, but must be viewed as a “mediation” effort on the part of the City Council.

“Water is at stake here. We have to ensure that this basic need should not be jeopardized by the current disagreements at Cowd,” said Nacaya.

But while the City Council probe may shed more light on the conflict between top Cowd officials and its wary labor union, it could also only heighten the animosities between the two sides.

The union, backed by mid-level official in the Cowd management, stepped up its attacks against the alleged corruption in the water district, with its members vowing to continue its daily noon-break picket outside the water district’s headquarters along Corrales Street.

In an apparent retaliation, the Board is running series of newspaper advertisements attacking union officials for alleged inefficiency on the job, while announcing a revamp among department heads. It also revealed that over a hundred Cowd employees have unpaid water bills amounting to over P1 million.

At the heart of the union*s protest is the questionable bulk water supply between Cowd and Rio Verde Water Consortium Inc. (RVWCI), whose contract state auditors say is tainted with fraud, on top of being onerous.

In a report late last year, the fraud division of the Commission on Audit found that contract for the Bulk Water Supply Project (BWSP) was different from the model contract, which was the basis for the bidding of the project in 2004.

The discrepancies, it said, were aimed at giving due advantage to RVWCI. It also found out that the Board then had “consistently” awarded the project to RVWCI even if the company was repeatedly discovered to be unqualified to participate in the bidding.

Engineer Antonio Young, Flow president, said the discrepancies in the contract threaten to affect the cost of water, potentially affecting even household water users.

“We’re not protesting for our own sake; we’re protesting against the irregularities within the water district to protect the interest of water consumers,” Young told this paper.