Premier and Finance Minister, Hon. Dr D. Orlando Smith and Hon. Mark Vanterpool, Minister of Communications and Works
Photo Credit: Melissa Edwards/BVI Platinum News
The BiWater contract, inked under the former Virgin Islands Party (VIP) administration, was described as an albatross around the neck of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP claimed that nothing could be done to re-negotiate or get out of the agreement, but surprisingly that tone is slightly changing.
Government has managed to get BiWater, now Seven Seas Water BVI Ltd, to renegotiate the 16 year agreement.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed to review the BiWater contract, with a view to lowering the water rate charged under the Water Purchase Agreement. This is subject to agreement with the lender, Barclays PLC and UK Export Finance (UK EF).
Government is hoping to save $4M annually with the lower cost.
In August 2015, Florida-based Seven Seas Water, a division of AquaVenture Holdings, announced that it had acquired BiWater desalination plant at Paraquita Bay.
Seven Seas Water had identified Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group as a long-term investor, but no other names were provided as to who are behind Seven Seas Water. BVIslander, Mr. Elton Georges is the company's Managing Director in the BVI.
Communications and Works Minister, Hon. Mark Vanterpool, who has been vocal against the contract, including before he became Minister, was questioned by members of the media on the apparent new approach to BiWater.
The Minister said that the negotiations have been long and difficult.
"It's just a MoU; nothing binding on either side. It shows that we have come to a point where we have agreed to reduce the price of water to the Territory. That’s where we are. It has not been an easy discussion and negotiation," he told reporters yesterday, February 14.
Minister Vanterpool said, "We were not comfortable and the other party was willing to negotiate with us and come to this position. Obviously negotiations have give and take...but the price is expected to come down significantly than what it is now."
He insisted that at this time, he does not want to go into details on the ongoing negotiations.
"The BiWater agreement, which is a 16 year contract, is the one that we have been working on in that regard…I don’t want to comment on the specifics as yet, until the agreement is signed...But we will benefit significantly from the changes, once we are able to finalize," he said.
Minister Vanterpool explained, "The only delay in the finalization of that is for the lenders to BiWater...As soon as they have finalized, they will sign off on the agreement we are discussing. Hopeful that is imminent."
He noted,!"I continue to say that I don’t want to comment specifically on it. So I wouldn’t answer anymore questions on the matter."
The Minister said that once they come to an agreement, he will host a press conference to provide more details.
Under the former VIP government, protesters fought against BiWater on the belief that local companies could have met the Territory's demand and there was no reason for a foreign company to enter the market.