The MIWD mess is getting murkier

How to get rid of an uncooperative board of directors?

This must have been the question that bedevilled LWUA chairman Butch Pichay (my primo) for quite sometime now regarding the Metro Iloio Water District (MIWD).

Pichay has found it difficult to push planned reforms for the MIWD because of the well-entrenched board of directors that refused to yield to the various attempts to change course. Basically, the board was locked in bullhorn-to-bullhorn battle with the water district’s management team. The stalemate effectively stopped the MIWD on its tracks to any improvement in its services.

There is no dispute that the MIWD has one of the worst water supply services in the country. So many millions of pesos in pipe-laying projects have been wasted as this hasn’t resulted in more households getting a steady supply of potable water on their faucets. Until now, a big portion of the city doesn’t have potable water and residents depend on private water suppliers for their daily needs. The board blames the management for this. Management is quick to throw the blame back to the board.

This has frustrated Pichay who has tried his best to play the role of referee. With no improvement in the situation in sight, Pichay looked elsewhere for a solution. This is where some bright boys at the LWUA must have put forward a bizarre solution: kick the entire board out of office through a legal question on their appointments. LWUA came out with a pronouncement that henceforth, the power to appoint members of the MIWD board of directors is vested in the provincial governor. The reason? The number of active service connections within Iloilo City failed to reach 75%, and under the law, this strips the city mayor of his power to appoint the board.

And with a questionable decree, the LWUA simply declared the existing board members as having lost their seats, saying their appointments were void ab initio.

Which is which?

LWUA might be correct on the point that the power to appoint now rests with the provincial governor. But it isn’t as simple as that. There has to be a transparent process to establish the factual basis for the removal of the appointing authority from the city mayor and transferring it to the provincial governor. There should be consultations with the LGUs concerned so that all parties are adequately informed about the legal and factual basis.

What happened here is that LWUA supposedly asked MIWD to submit a report on the distribution of its service connections, and when they checked, the figures no longer support the continued authority to appoint in the city mayor. Indeed, the provincial governor is the appointing authority for board members of water districts in the province serving two or more municipalities. There’s nothing controversial about that.

In an interview, Congressman Jerry P. Trenas raises a valid point about the legality of the LWUA’s action in unilaterally nullifying existing appointments. Is the LWUA vested with judicial powers to declare certain actions void ab initio? Even if there is basis for the nullification of these appointments, Trenas argues that only the proper courts could rule on the issue.

I know Chairman Pichay has noble motives in trying to sweep clean the board of directors of MIWD. But it has to be done in accordance with the law. It might entail a slow and cumbersome process, but that’s how things are done.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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