The Government of the Virgin Islands has moved forward with plans to transform the Water and Sewerage Department into a statutory body following the passing of the Sewerage Authority Act 2022 in the House of Assembly.

The bill, which was presented by Deputy Premier and Minister for Communication and Works the Honourable Kye Rymer, represents a significant milestone in years of Government discussions on how to address the outstanding issues and inefficiencies of the Water and Sewerage Department.

The move to create a statutory body, Rymer explained, was most recently recommended by advisors from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

He said, “The FCO’s advisors to the Water and Sewerage Department reconfirmed that it would be in the best interest of the residents and environments of the Virgin Islands if the government proceeded to create a statutory authority to deal with water and sewerage functions throughout the territory.”

In addition to transferring jurisdiction over the management of the territory’s potable water with hopes of achieving efficiency that was out of reach under the existing operational structure of the department, Rymer explained that this move will also provide an opportunity to properly update and implement a National Water policy to improve the levels of service being provided to residents.

The move, Minister Rymer said, will further iron out various issues which have, over the years, slowed the process of the department to address issues as they are presented.

“Transforming the department into a corporate entity will remove existing bureaucracies and help facilitate restructuring its operation with efficiency that allows the organisation to expand the water distribution and sewerage collection networks while improving customer service and customer awareness,” Rymer stated.

The deputy premier stressed that though bureaucracy does have its place in the operation of such entities, the style in which it had been executed by the department had forced it to operate in a manner that limited its ability to respond quickly to major issues.

This he said ultimately led the operational system to a point where it “simply cannot cope anymore”.

Rymer admitted that significant challenges are posed to any department or authority tasked to manage the territory’s water sources, as, despite the BVI being blessed in various areas, the availability of fresh surface water was not one of them.

Taking a brief dive into the territory’s history Rymer explained that long periods of drought and water shortages have been prominent.

He said these Issues have only been exacerbated due to the limitations of water distribution networks, sewerage systems and other system inadequacies.

And while the resulting issues are therefore a result of a multitude of factors, Rymer lamented that all too often blame is cast on the department’s workers.

“It is the compounding of problems year after year, the kicking the can down the road that has resulted in our people being frustrated with the problems they are facing daily. Unfortunately, persons tend to direct blame at the workers. How can the workers be blamed if they are forced to operate in a system that has been known to be critically inadequate since 1970?” Rymer questioned.

Despite this, he asserted that the people of the Virgin Islands are in need and deserving of an efficient and reliable water supply, and it is his hope that the passing of the Sewerage Authority Act will bring the territory closer to achieving such.