at Holiday Inn, Palm Drive, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines on June 3, 2014
- Why did you select water engineering as your career?
I selected Emergency doctor first, then I found out after studying, it takes me 2 years in military hospital, and another 3 years in (?). Then (someone) advised me that if you really want to work in emergency situation, you may take Safety & Environment Engineering to become a Fireman. I took it, then one day I need to check my physical exam and I failed because of my eyeglasses. The doctor said: next time if you want to pass, you can wear your contact lens, but this physical exam happens every 3 years, how can you be sure you will pass on next time. Then afterward, I took water engineering as it the only course which master degree was available. And for emergency, I can make it become a hobby, I can volunteer.
– How did you volunteer?
Sometime if there was car accident happens on the street, I managed it, but I stopped it in Asia. A Malaysian advised I to stop doing it, since if someone dies or someone sue me, it would be a problem.
How about now? Do you still interested in it?
Not really. I lost faith in Western medicine, I believe more in tradition medicine. And I believe that decease happens due to energy imbalance.
(His sharing linked me with stories of Andrew Alarcon – a natural doctor which I have talked with last April)
- How did you start your career as Managing Director Asia for Tubemakes of Australia when you just finished your study?
At that time the Managing Director was vacant and they don’t have anyone to fill it up, so they promoted me and they provided me management course, as well as they sent me to Australia to study engineering software.
- In an interview, you said that: When you were in your 20s and beginning a career, you thought that solutions to development problems lie in engineering, in your 30s: finance, in your 40s: social dimensions where NGO play an important role. Now you are in your 50s, do you change your mind?
I will tell you later, or few years later. But it’s true, when I started my career, I thought that engineering can solve all problems. Afterward, I realized you need money to do it. Then afterward, sometimes we already have engineering, have money, but people don’t like our project, at that time social dimensions became important.
Now in Vietnam, I try to go more with waste water.
- Since you mentioned that, may you tell me more about water pilot and demonstration activities in Kieu Ky, Hanoi which NGOs involved?
Well, there are 2 NGOs involved in a small waste water project. In which, they connect all septic tanks of households in to a system lead to a water treatment plant. And they asked people want to manage it by themselves or let the district manage it. Finally, people select the district. The capacity of the WWTP is around 400m3/day, 1 NGO designs and constructs the WWTP and the other NGO does the project management. It was funded around 50000 usd from ADB and 20000 usd from NGO. ADB also funded 10000 usd for one year monitoring of the water quality.
Actually, we want to see do people willing to cooperate, willing to pay.
- What do you think when you work with water companies in Vietnam? Is there anything they need to change to be better?
There are some areas they can improve but they don’t do. They don’t know what they don’t know. People think that ADB is just about money, but ADB is not only about money. Sometimes when I talked with them, I said “Is this or that your problems?”. They asked me: “How do you know it?” I know because I managed WTP before.
For example, they want to increase the flow, they keep pumping and create more dead loss. So they spend more energy but no more water. I advised them to use reservoir (to ?).
Or to control NRW, they keep repairing the pipes, since they have no money to change. But keep repairing is not the solution, they need to change the pipes.
They keep do things by habit. For example, for the water resource from rivers, in wet season, the turbidity is, they put more chemical which is not effective. While they can do the flocculation test to see what to do with it. They have machine in their laboratory but they don’t use.
I also plan to put more IT in water companies.
In addition, they focus too much in detail. For example, they pay too much intention in design of WWT or network, but they don’t take care of house connection from system, comprehensibly.
– So do you have any problems with them?
No, just if they don’t pay well. For example, to do FSR, some companies pay good money for the consultant, and the result is good job. But some companies don’t pay good and the quality isn’t good as well.
Or some companies want to do everything by themselves. I told them to hire consultants so there will be someone to see from outside with different perspectives.
- Among water companies which you work with in Vietnam, according to you which one is the best and which one is worst?
Hue is the best. And perhaps, Qug Nm is the worst (ha ha). They are not bad, but they use money to invest in real estate and they lost. And they want to increase water tariff to … the lost in real estate.
- In case if the water companies make some information, data which are not true, can your recognize it?
Yes, sometime they “cook” their FSR. Some of them “cook” very well and some of them don’t.
– And what do you do about it?
I ask them to do the FSR again, give them a new deadline. And, if they tell me the truth, I can help them to “cook”.
– Wow, interesting. So who are you really after, ADB or water companies?
What I focus is the improvement, since there are some requirements from ADB are not properly.
– For example, which requirements from ADB are not properly?
For example, ADB requires to do economy analytic while should do only finance analytic. What does it bring more into water projects if do economy analytic.
- What do you expect from people, company you work with?
For people: be able to trust, dedicated, not lazy. Currently, ADB water team in Vietnam has 7 people, 3 of them work full time, 4 others work part time. And we work as a team, I manage strategies, and if they will ask me if they have something to ask. Sometime we do meetings over lunch.
I want them to tell me the truth. There was a company, to be able to have loan, they join venture with another company which we need lots of time to rearrange it afterward. If they just tell me the truth, I can do something with it.
Sometimes I asked water companies to choose 5 to 10 criterias in benchmarking and calculate how much they can improve. I asked them to choose the indicator, the realistic target. I want to make them responsible with their project. I told them: you have a chance and you didn’t take it. It’s your company, it’s your city, you know better than me.
And I’m very strict in water demand. Sometime they calculated too high which lead to oversupply. And to pay the loan, they need to increase water tariff. For example, as the Master plan which is signed by Prime Minister which they need to follow, the city class 2 must become city class 1 by 2020, so the water demand is increased as well. But the water demand is based on real population. So I advised them to divide project to Phase 1 and Phase 2 which Phase 1 meet the real demand, and Phase 2 meet the requirement of the Master plan. And they will never do the Phase 2 (laugh).
And, there are companies have low coverage, around 50%, but they bring a high coverage into FSR. The point is, it’s not because they bring pipe in front of a household, the household will connect to it. The household has other water resources like wells. So, they need to explain, educate and convince people that water from water companies is better, safer and more convenient.
The point here is: I need to know, but sometime they hide.
- According to you, what does ADB need now?
ADB need to enhance Streamlined business processes.
ADB sometime needs to accept small projects. (There are 2-3 more he talked about but I forget).
– As I know, ADB get fund from their countries members, is it correct.
Yes, among 68 countries members, there are 20% donors, the biggest one is Japan. Beside, ADB also borrow money from the market with very cheap rate and relend. Since the market knows that ADB can’t go bankrupt.
What I have learned from him is that he is a very nice person, very open, willing to help and cooperate, he just need people to tell him the truth. What he really wants is the result itself. I really wish the water companies know it. And I really understand his “level”, and understand why he is specialist of ADB. Not only his widely understanding, knowledge, experience but also because he loves people.