• Process control in the Philippines: No more than a vague option

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    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    For another comparison to Maynilad’s ridiculously low technical standard (that they congratulate themselves repeatedly in their annual report for having achieved) of 7 psi water delivery pressure, the best estimate I could find says an adult male human urinates at an average of 15 psi. I thought it best not to include that factoid in the column, but it’s too amusing not to share otherwise.

    Rick Ramos’ harsh and entirely deserved critique of the poor job of the Edsa “repairs” done by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) during Holy Week (“Edsa reblocking anomalies,” April 26) describes an approach to infrastructure development and maintenance which has, unfortunately and for no good reason whatsoever, become conventional in this country:

    Projects are undertaken according to willfully inefficient procedures, with quality control being a mere afterthought (if it is a thought at all), resulting in infrastructure that performs poorly and requires constant remedial attention.

    I was fortunate to have been able to mostly avoid sharing the woes of Metro commuters and residents during the recent “nightmare on Edsa,” but Rick’s discussion of it in his column on Saturday might as well have been about the long-running bad joke in my own area, the extension of Maynilad’s water system to the last unserviced parts of its franchise area in Imus, Cavite.

    For about two years, Imuseños have endured having most every street and road in the city either being actively constricted due to the ongoing installation of water lines, or left in degraded condition in the areas where the work has already been completed.

    About two weeks ago, Maynilad’s caravan of destruction finally reached the village where I live, giving me a chance to observe the water distributor’s work processes up close. It has been interesting, because I had a similar experience about a dozen years ago, when the municipal water contractor of Louisville, Kentucky (where I was living and working at the time) replaced a major supply line on a several blocks-long stretch of the street where I lived.

    The projects in my old and new neighborhoods had virtually the same objective, to install at a depth of about a meter below the street a large (approximately 12-inch diameter) water supply pipe with connections to homes and businesses on either side. The project in Louisville covered a distance of about six city blocks, roughly three-quarters of a kilometer, and was completed over a weekend; crews arrived at one end of the street on early Saturday morning, and threw their tools in the truck and left for home from the opposite end of the street just before sundown on Sunday, leaving behind them a street that had been restored to close to its original condition, with all its residents enjoying normal water supply.

    In the same amount of time, Maynilad’s crews, doing exactly the same job, covered just about 60 meters, and are yet to install the residential connection lines to the ten or so houses along that part of the street. When one watches the process, it is easy to see why it takes so long. First, an operator of air-powered concrete saw cuts a neat line through the street surface for some distance, then turns around and returns to the point where he started, cutting a parallel line about 18 inches from the first one in the process.

    Once that is done, two workers wielding jackhammers break up the concrete between the two lines. After that, one or more workers arrive armed with shovels and various other digging implements and dig a trench, by hand, down to a depth of about a meter, piling the broken concrete and excavated soil alongside the trench; this is removed by more workers who, again working by hand, shovel the dirt into a dump truck.

    Another crew following along behind installs the large water pipe in the freshly-excavated trench, which is then filled in with dirt removed (by hand, again) from the dump truck and covered with a loose mixture of broken concrete and sand. Sometime later, yet another crew will arrive and cover this temporary fill with a thin layer of asphalt. At some point after all that torturous labor is done, the saw-and-jackhammer crew will arrive again to re-excavate the newly-covered trench again at intervals for the installation of the connecting lines to the houses, which also require narrow trenches to be dug across the street and sidewalks.

    And what do the Imuseños get in return for sacrificing their perfectly-serviceable wells or village water systems for Maynilad’s? A town in which virtually every road is tattooed with a dusty, foot-wide strip of gravel, and water delivered at a “sufficient” pressure of 7 pounds per square inch (psi), “99.9 percent of the time” according to Maynilad’s 2012 Annual Report, as though that was some kind of achievement.

    For comparison, the lowest minimum delivery pressure standard for municipal water systems I could find for any place in the world was in Dublin, Ireland, where the water distribution system is required to maintain a minimum delivery pressure of 15-17 psi.

    Throughout the United States, 20 psi delivery pressure is a common minimum standard; in South Africa, 34 psi is considered the standard although about 20 percent of the water systems are below that (with the lowest being at around 20 psi, which judging from the government test reports from which these figures are derived, is considered completely unacceptable); in the UK, municipal water systems typically average between 4 and 5 bars of delivery pressure (58-72 psi).

    The typical village water system here in the Philippines usually delivers water at 20 to 25 psi, while the typical setting on a home deep well and pressure tank system is between 25 and 40 psi.

    Despite adhering to awesomely inefficient, labor-intensive processes and delivering a product in a manner that is laughably less than half the minimally-acceptable standard anywhere else, Maynilad is fortunate to be doing business in a country where being an utter failure by any sane standard is no impediment to wealth-harvesting. Thanks to having no bar to leap other than the ankle-high one it sets for itself, Maynilad turned a healthy profit of just under P 6.4 billion in 2012 (the company’s 2013 annual report is not yet publicly available), a margin of 40.2 percent.

    benkritz@outlook.com

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    2 Comments

    1. Dusty, same sentiments here. My filipino wife absolutely detests, (like most filipinos, I discovered), when I make a comment on anything and everything substandard about the Philippines and the backward systems and processes they still have and use today. A couple of examples that come to mind: 9 brown-outs in one month, one of which lasted almost 3 days before it was rectified. But am I allowed to complain? Noooooooo. Another time we had to travel to Tacloban to get some type of clearance certificate. We arrive around 8.30, complete some forms and sit and wait till our name is called. Well, it’s just before midday and we are approaching the front of the queue, when low and behold, all the operating windows at the counter are closed because everyone had to go to lunch, that’s right! I kid you not, ALL operators went to lunch at the same time, leaving us to wait an extra hour. We finally left at around 2pm. But was I allowed to complain? Nooooooo. The problem is that filipinos think this is just normal because they are used to it. The worst thing that happened to this country is that it was given self-rule when it was not nearly ready for it, which was the start of the big mess the country is in today.

    2. I see most things done in this country is what i call substandard & when i make comparrisons to my wife ( who has also lived in england with me ) she hates it. She like every other filipina cant stand any criticism of anything in the philippines, so when i read it i cant stop laughing & think you deserve it. When we foreigners speak up about it pinoys dont like it so i laugh at the stupidity of the people here all the time. \
      Here is something for you next time you have any floor tiles put down watch them & see what you think.