Millions owed by farmers who refuse to pay.
THE REFUSAL of some farmers to pay for irrigation water delivered to their properties by the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) is threatening the continued financial viability of the agency, which has now vowed to embark on a collection or disconnection drive to recover the millions of dollars it is owed.
Director of commercial operations at the NIC, Wayne Barrett, told The Gleaner that this has caused much frustration as the NIC has made a number of overtures to the delinquent farmers, going so far as to offer payment plans, but to no avail.
“After all our pleadings and seeking to make arrangements to pay down on the amount owed and their failure to comply, we have taken the stance now that we have to cauterise this debt and the most appropriate methodology to get farmers to comply is to disconnect the water supply. Our strategy now is a zero-tolerance approach. We are proceeding now to disconnecting customers’ accounts and basically mandating them to settle all amounts owed before they are reconnected.
“It has been very challenging because one of our most expensive cost items is the payment to the Jamaica Public Service for the electricity to pump the water to customers, from a lot of sources (wells) which are very deep in the earth,” he further explained.
Crop farmers account for the majority of the delinquents, with fish farmers and other customers much more compliant, according to the director of commercial operations. He accused the farmers of abusing the situation since the cost of the water is subsidised to the tune of 70-75 per cent.
“It is heavily subsidised and that makes it all the more reason why these customers need to come in and pay their invoices, because the NIC needs the money owed to be able to fund our operations,” he argued.
Describing the amount owed as a “substantial”, Barrett declined to say how much money is owed, but The Gleaner understands that the sum runs into millions of dollars.
The collect-or-disconnect drive comes as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining Floyd Green has warned the country to brace for a fall-off in domestic crop production as a result of the drought which has been affecting the country since last year.