Seares: Identify key officials whom to prod and, yes, blame on water shortage

IDENTIFYING the public officials responsible for the failure to solve the long-running water shortage problem in Metro Cebu is essential. MCWD consumers need to know whom to expect and demand from the solution to the decades-old crisis.

The usual suspects in the “crime of omission” are the water district officials: the five directors and its general manager and the mayors who appointed them.

The Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973 (Presidential Decree 198) and the landmark case (Rama et al vs. Judge Moises and Garcia) that interpreted it tell us, however, the other public officials who may be prodded to act on the problem.

Who’s minding the store

Rama vs. Moises (GR197146) was decided by the Supreme Court with finality only on Aug. 8, 2017. For several years, since local governments turned over their water districts to the entity that would become MCWD, it was only two years ago that the rule was made clear: the Cebu City mayor has the authority to appoint MCWD’s directors. A section of PD 198 (3-b, on the power to appoint) was declared unconstitutional.

The long period preceding the SC decision, or some 44 years, were marked with uncertainty and the Capitol-Cebu City Hall squabble over the appointing power was hurting the progress of the water system. Undefined authority meant unclear leadership, which in turn meant no mayor or governor was seriously minding the store.

Well, the appointing authority belongs to the mayor. The authority to hire comes with authority to fire, under conditions (“for cause”) and procedure provided by law. Short of dismissal before each director’s six-year term expires, the mayor has the power to guide policy and influence action just like any other executive.

Consumers in other LGUs

Those who live outside Cebu City—in other independent cities and towns in Metro Cebu—can ask their own mayors and, if component of the province, their governor. That explains why the Cebu Provincial Board, and the mayors of Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City and Liloan town, which are part of the service area of MCWD, are also speaking out and complaining.

It is more about identifying the officials who should be pushed and prodded than playing the “blame game.” To the credit of Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella and MCWD’s directors and general manager, they haven’t been heard dodging responsibility and accountability.

Group, qualifications

Here’s a thing, little known to those who have not read the law: each director is required to represent a group: from civic-oriented service clubs; business, commercial and financial organizations; educational or religious institutions; and women’s organizations.

The MCWD secretary is supposed to seek nominations from the groups cited but the mayor is authorized to name any qualified person of the category.

And the qualifications are only citizenship, voting age, and residence within the water district. A mayor can easily hurdle that to pick his person of choice. No knowledge or expertise about water production or management is required by the law. Not even for the general manager who is appointed or the chairman who is elected from among the five directors. The board though may require expertise on water supply, especially for the GM who is responsible for running MCWD,

Electing the directors

Cebu City Councilor Alvin Dizon, interviewed by Jason Monteclar on dyCM radio last week, proposed that the directors be elected so they would be accountable to the people, most of whom are MCWD consumers. As if such elected directors would not be loyal foremost to their party and party leader. Besides, they already are accountable now; as appointees of the mayor, they are answerable to him as chief executive.

The present directors, including its chairman, owe loyalty to the mayor who put them there. Four were appointed by Tomas Osmeña, the mayor whom Labella defeated last May, and one by Mike Rama, Labella’s ally.

That may complicate Mayor Labella’s problem. Not all the present directors may choose to go along with his guidance or direction of the water district.

Failure during his term—at least to adopt short-term solutions and speed up the long-term measures—would be on his head, as it already was during Osmena’s 2016-2019 stint.


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