The recent appointment of a former Maynilad engineer as the newest member of the Regulatory Office of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is a clear manifestation of conflict of interest and of the agency’s bias against consumers, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said on Tuesday.

Edgardo Esteban, who just resigned from Maynilad Water services as its head of water production unit last January, took his oath as its chief technical regulator last August 1 during the 10th anniversary celebrations of the MWSS privatization. His office will be responsible for technical and engineering functions including asset management and investment of the government water agency.

“The MWSS Board acted unlawful and betrayed the interest of the public when they appointed Mr. Esteban as a member of the Regulatory Office. MWSS Chairman Oscar Garcia has to explain to the water consumers why he violated a very clear provision in the Concession Agreement,” said FDC secretary general Milo Tanchuling,

Under the 1997 Concession Agreement (Exhibit A, No. 2), “No member of the regulatory office shall have any present or prior affiliation with MWSS or either of the concessionaires (or any affiliate of either of the concessionaires)."

“Why would Mr. Garcia and the majority of the MWSS Board choose someone from one of the water concessionaires despite the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel’s position that it is a possible violation of the terms of the Concession Agreement? This explains the brand of governance they have which is anti-consumers. This same brand of governance could also possibly explain the water shortage Metro Manila consumers are currently experiencing,” said Tanchuling.

The group said that it is ironic that the agency supposedly protecting the interest of the consumers is taking the side of these corporate water concessionaires.

“This is not the first time the MWSS Board did this. In fact, we had filed a case against them last year before the Supreme Court when they declared Manila Water and Maynilad as ‘mere agents and contractors’ which, according to our study, resulted in the concessionaires’ higher profit margins and the passing on of their corporate income tax to unsuspecting consumers,” Tanchuling recalled.

Tanchuling said that their group, as water consumers, is mulling to file a complaint before the Ombudsman against Mr. Garcia and the MWSS Board.

A water regulator may not be removed except by action of the Appeals Panel as stipulated in the Concession Agreement. The complainant, however, must be a party to the agreement.

“After ten years of failed MWSS privatization, what we need is a strong and independent regulatory mechanism, not another controversial decision favoring corporate interests,” stressed Tanchuling.

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