Roberts takes on Phenton Neymour and Water and Sewerage Corporation

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Press Statement

By Bradley B Roberts \National Chairman
Progressive Liberal Party

June 17, 2010
Subject: The Water and Sewerage Corporation

In April of this year the Hon. Jr. for public utilities Minister Phenton Neymour saw fit to inform the nation that an investigation into the unfortunate explosion at the Water and Sewerage Corporation John F Kennedy Drive facilities was underway. He reported that an independent investigator out of the US was appointed to look into the events leading to and circumstances surrounding the accident.

Immediately after Jr. Minister Neymour’s report of the incident and in light of the most recent tragedy at the Container Port, the PLP voiced its concern regarding the health and safety standards, or lack thereof, at the Ministry of Energy and The Environment.

In voicing our concerns, we reminded the press and public that no answers were ever given regarding a ‘chlorine leak’ at the same facility where the explosion occurred. The following questions were then asked of Minister Earl Deveaux and Jr. Minister Neymour:

1. Was a review conducted of the first incident and if so, by whom and what were the results?

2. What are the new prescribed handling protocols for chlorine canisters at the corporation and when will employees and the public be made aware of what actions to take in the event of a similar re-occurrence?

3. Were the responsible officers/executives cautioned, or issued a ‘show-cause’ letter, similar to the one mentioned by Min. Deveaux, in his recent guest appearance on the talk show circuit, regarding the Met Office culpability in the Container Port incident?

4. Min. Neymour in a news report today (meaning April 12th) mentioned that an investigation will be conducted of the recent WSC incident. Will this be conducted by an independent body and will it be only limited to this event?

In typical fashion, Jr. Minister Neymour quickly expressed dismay at my requesting answers for an event that was under investigation and went on to gloss over the very real ‘safety and security’ problems that beset the corporation.

The Progressive Liberal Party noted at the time, however, that the Jr. Minister said absolutely nothing about the almost catastrophic chlorine incident that occurred last year. We also noted the deafening silence coming from Senior Minister Deveaux and the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister.

It was most surprising that both Minister Deveaux and Jr. Minister Neymour deliberately choose not to report on this chlorine incident as it (potentially) adversely impacted a number of our school children at the neighboring school.

Today the Progressive Liberal Party is renewing the call for specifics surrounding the ‘chlorine leak’ incident and the results from any investigation conducted. The Country needs to know who was responsible, how they were dealt with, and the corrective actions taken by the corporation to avoid a re occurrence of this type of incident.

This call now comes on the heels of yet another reported incident at the same Water and Sewerage Corporation, regarding “seven cylinders filled with chlorine gas” that went missing on or before last week Tuesday.

The PLP now calls on the press to exercise its obligations as the members of the Fourth Estate, to expose any practice risk that adversely impacts our society, as the Government by its own admission is now telling the public that exposure to chlorine gas is dangerous.

The PLP feels obligated at this point to publicly inform the Hon. Prime Minister that the symptoms of acute exposure to high concentrations of chlorine gas include:

1. Breathing difficulties
2. Nausea
3. Vomiting

We also wish to forcibly remind him that last year, classes for the students at the neighboring HO Nash School was suspended as they reportedly complained of at least two of these symptoms. We now ask him if he can live with the possibility of something worse occurring this year.

The PLP also wishes to remind the Hon. Prime Minister of his obligation to protect the lives and wellbeing of all residents of this country, including the workers at the corporation.

The general public must be made aware of the seriousness of this matter, as a similar incident occurring anywhere else in the world would have resulted in the organized evacuation of persons in the neighboring areas and evaluative (post event) testing to ensure that all is well.

With this latest incident, a massive criminal investigation should be underway – as this matter speaks to national security.

Based on the history of micro-management displayed by the Jr. Minister over the Water Corporation and BEC, it is fair to conclude that he was aware of the chlorine incident but may have chosen, or was directed, to downplay these chlorine incidents.

Further, in light of Ministers Deveaux and Neymour penchant for news cameras and the press, it is remarkable that neither of them spoke on this serious matter, either in the house last week or to the press.

As the heads of our Environment Ministry, this is unacceptable and their lack of accountability or effectiveness as leaders needs to be addressed by the Prime Minister.

In light of the above and the recently reported health and safety issues around the country, it is the PLP’s hope and prayer that lives do not have to be lost, or the health of Bahamians severely impacted before this government responds.