The water hearings

It was a proceeding not seen in El Salvador for twenty years. Government officials from the Bukele administration were required to come before the full Legislative Assembly to answer questions for three days from the assembled deputies in a process called interpelación. The officials were the Minister of Health, Dr. Ana Orellana Bendek, and the president of the ANDA water authority, Fréderick Benítez, and they were being questioned about a water crisis earlier this year when the water from the Las Pavas water purification plant was a dirty brown color with a bad odor.

The politicians in the Legislative Assembly, of course, were not just trying to learn what happened, but to score points against the Bukele administration.

What we did learn:
1) You should probably never drink the water from the ANDA water system
2) The health risk of the water during the January water crisis was not significantly worse than normal, despite the bad color and odor.
3) The bad color and odor were caused by an "atypical" algae bloom at the point where the Las Pavas plant draws its water from the Lempa River
4) The Ministry of Health and ANDA each said it was the responsibility of the other to advise the public whether the water being delivered by ANDA was safe to drink.
5) The Las Pavas purification plant, and the rest of the ANDA system, have significant needs for investment in maintenance and improvements going back many years.

Nayib Bukele and his supporters complained about the length of the process, the repetitiveness of the questions, and the need for the officials to get back to their jobs.  In addition, Bukele argued that the Legislative Assembly should have been working on approving his $109 million loan package for the security forces.   They tweeted pictures of deputies yawning or not paying attention.

Deputies from the FMLN and ARENA, however,  asserted that the Minister of Health and the ANDA president were evasive in their answers and blaming each other for advice about the safety of the drinking water.

Some excerpts from the days of hearings:

A question put to the Minister of Health regarding causes of the crisis:

The president of ANDA commits to improving water quality for Salvadorans:

An FMLN legislator expresses her doubts regarding the testimony of Benítez.

It appears that the Legislative Assembly may have seen value in this seldom-used process to force ministers to answer their questions.   Some were openly talking about using interpelación to summon the heads of the military and police to answer questions about the taking of the Legislative Assembly chambers on February 9.