Water District features
Twelve Lessons from the Success Story of Binmaley Water District
by Teodoro M. Reynoso, LWUA Public Affairs Department

When I was handed out my assignment slip for this one I know that it is not going to be a standard water district profile success story. As should be since the subject of the story is not your usual successful friendly neighborhood water district.

It happens to be the Binmaley Water District, the two-time awardee as Outstanding Water District in the Medium category nationwide (2001-2003) and a close, very close runner-up to the Legaspi City Water District for the top plum as the country's Most Outstanding Water District for the past calendar year with LCWD getting the verdict by the proverbial skin of the teeth.

So I in short order I packed up my traveling bag for Binmaley to get as much facts as I can for this piece.

From the time of my arrival at around half past noon to about three hours past office closing time, there we sat-me and BWD's top honcho GM Mariano Gonzalo---inside his quite spacious and air-conned office talking, me shooting probing questions and him, in between cigarette puffs and indeed, sticks after sticks of his favorite brand, shooting back replies as best as he could.

GM Mar looks like your ordinary water district CEO/COO-soft-spoken, low-profiled, simple with no swaggering air about him whatsoever. But one can discern that beyond his the simplicity of his words, he speaks wisdom.
Soon enough, I felt like a pupil studying at the feet of a Plato though certainly he doesn't look a bit like a schoolmaster. I took notes, lots of it.

This continued the following day even as GM Mar took me to a tour of the WD facilities, the various landmarks and spots around town and the sites of the still ongoing project of the BWD which is financed by grant from the JICA or Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Back home, I studied my notes, dissecting the facts I gathered in my short two-day stay in Binmaley. It was a weekend and I have no particular hurry to write the story. Yet I waited for the muse of prose to move me and allow my creative juice to flow for this one.

Waiting for Erato, I decided to play a DVD movie I just bought precisely for that weekend. It's titled, "Fogs of War"--- a narrative but graphic documentary on the war-time and peace-time career of former US defense secretary and later on World Bank chair Robert McNamara. In that documentary, McNamara presented the eleven lessons that he and the USA learned from his various stints ( starting with his involvement in the US invasion and occupation of Japan at the end of the Second World War, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and finally, his chairmanship of the WB ).


Why not " Eleven Lessons from the Success Story of Binmaley Water District" ?
Indeed, why not. In fact, why not Twelve Lessons from the Success Story …? I have enough materials to cull data from. Hence this story.

The Lessons

Lesson #1- Size doesn't matter. Binmaley sits between the bustling Dagupan City and the progressing capital town of Lingayen both of which host water districts that have comparatively bigger market as far as actual and potential water costumership is concerned. Binmaley itself is just a 3rd class municipality of about 68,000+ population with fishing and aquaculture as its main source of livelihood. Binmaley, not Dagupan City is the bangus production capital of Pangasinan, the latter is the marketing center. But this alone does not necessarily mean that Binmaley could stand shoulder to shoulder with Dagupan City and Lingayen. Yet the fact that it is still just a medium-size water district does not deter the Binmaley water District to vie for the outstanding and most outstanding water district awards with the bigger water districts in urbanized areas.

Lesson # 2- Have a Clear Understanding and Foresight. When GM Gonzalo assumed the helmsmanship of BWD, he exerted efforts to understand the deficiencies of the system not only from the technical but various standpoints. True, the main shortcoming of the system then was that it only had one water source. But GM Gonzalo also recognized that the WD also had to beef up institutionally and prepare the residents prior to any improvement and expansion programs. Putting up facilities and making more water available do not necessarily mean that people would readily rush up to apply for connections considering that years of forgettable water utility operation had made most people indifferent and had forced them to rely on alternative sources of water, mostly own backyard dug wells and hand pumps. With this clear understanding and using foresight, GM Gonzalo went ahead slowly but surely with the WD development programs mindful of the need to get the public sold to the water district and its services first before committing the water district to improvement and expansion of the system that entailed capital investments. " We sort of resorted to soft-selling, allowing our actions to speak for themselves. Walang pilitan. We know that the people would soon realize that it is better, more practical and convenient and safer to connect to the water district", GM Mar said.

Lesson #3- By the fruit of your labor ye shall be judged. Not only the efforts of the BWD were judged and rewarded by the residents of Binmaley with their support and patronage but also by LWUA and the Philippine Association of Water Districts (PAWD) by their awards of commendation and their acclamation of BWD as a model worth emulating by other water districts.

Lesson #4-Learn from the Past But Move Forward. It was not totally a smooth ride for BWD as it also had it share of downs especially during the deficient times. The management of the water district had to be taken over by LWUA in the 80s on account of its almost static growth and failure to cope with its debt service obligations. But GM Mar would rather not dwell on this past record. " It is important to look back on the past for its lessons but we must always move forward, looking up to the future," he said.

Lesson #5- Take risks but be flexible. In the course of the expansion of the WD system, there are areas where the venture could be risky. This situation also confronted BWD but GM Mar stuck to the guns so to speak and took the risk at times against conventional wisdom or the counsel and advice of the experts. " Oftentimes, experts from the outside took things at their face value or judge too hastily the worth of investing in an area on the basis of their perception or impression. I am a native of this place hence I must know better," GM Mar reasoned out. "However, we see to it that we also have some flexibility should the situation do not turn out as envisioned. We also have a fall back plan," The fact that the BWD had over a relatively short span of time been able to expand its facilities and service to 32 of the town's 33 barangays ( one has an existing RWSA ) speaks well of this successful risk-taking strategy.

Lesson #6- Be credit-worthy always. Perhaps it is on account of the lesson learned from the WD's sad experience in the past but another of BWD's motto is to be credit-worthy at all times. Being credit-worthy does not only qualify a water district for further loans but also give it flexibility to manage its finances. In the case of BWD, it has decided to pay in full one of its outstanding loan accounts to save on interest and commitment fee payments. One step backward, two steps forward as the Chinese saying goes, GM Mar insinuated.

Lesson #7-Management is 99% common sense. This has been GM Mar's guidepost since assuming his post. This he learned after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, working previously for six years as fleet operations chief for a major transporation company , putting up his own business and serving as member of the BWD board of directors for six months prior to his appointment as WD general manager. GM Mar said managing people and resources should not be difficult task if only one uses his common sense more and avoid complications. Consistent with this dictum, BWD maintains a simple organizational setup with just two divisions, one for commercial/admin and finance and another for technical/engineering and construction patterned after Average WD despite the fact BWD is already qualified for Big WD classification.

Lesson #8- Empathize but expect empathy in return. GM Mar calls this "pakikibagay sa empleyado at sa publiko". There are times when some staff would slacken on their work productivity due to some problems or distractions but GM Mar would just let them be for the time being while making them feel or informing them so subtly that he expects them to get back to form and double their efforts to make up for the shortcomings. Towards the concessionaires, GM Mar said the WD showed empathy by making it less costlier for them to avail of the WD service. Instead of the meter deposit which the WD would have to pay back, we only require a guarantee deposit in the fixed amount of P500. BWD charges just a total of P700 as connection fee, very affordable but on one-time payment basis only. It also tried to maintain its water rates to the lowest possible level ( BWD maintains one of the lowest in the whole province at P120 minimum projected to go up to P150 on account of the JICA project but to be implemented on staggered basis ). "On the other hand, we expect and we make it known to the concessionaires that they also have an obligation to pay their bills promptly", GM Mar said citing that BWD's collection efficiency is 95 percent.

Lesson #9- Rewards and incentives pay. With its steadily improving operation and finances, the BWD has more than enough to go around and GM Mar said he is one who will go out of the limb to share the dividends of growth with the BWD employees. "To draw out the best from your people, you also have to provide for their needs in work and for their families or the people who depend on them for sustenance", GM Mar said. "But the one thing I learned is that investing in your people also pays in terms of enhancing their morale and work performance, developing their pride and sense of belongingness to the point that BWD employees are willing even to sacrifice and go the extra mile for the organization', he enthused.

Lesson #10-Optimize but don't sacrifice. With just 28 employees catering to the needs of around 6,600 connectors, BWD has one of the highest employee-to-connections ratio hereabouts at almost 1:240. This connotes high productivity and high work efficiency of the BWD staff. However, it could also mean that the water district is understaffed and hence with overworked staff. For GM Mar, the rule of thumb is optimize but don't sacrifice. This is true both to the ones being served ( consumers ) and the ones providing the service ( employees).

Lesson #11-Don't let the window of opportunity close on you.

Lesson# 12- Room for improvement remains unfilled.c