William Shakespeare, in his play Hamlet, noted that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark …” (Act-I, Scene-IV). It was a reference to how bad things were in Denmark at that time, including corrupt rulership.
The phrase is an apt reference to what is happening at the Water and Sewerage Authority, a public utility that is in the red and where it seems things are so chaotic it is now under the radar of Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales.
Citizens will not be shocked a utility that had numerous chairmen and boards over the years, not to mention changes in line ministers, was allowed to get to the state that it is currently at. As a Trinidadian, you would have to be blind and deaf to be unaware that billions spent at WASA have done little to ease the burden of a population that constantly complains about the lack of a pipebourne water supply.
A 2016 audit unearthed numerous incidents of financial discrepancies, the end result of which was the haemorrhaging of millions of dollars in salaries and overtime.
There are several concerning revelations in the report, not least of which is the allegation that in 2012, a mandate was given to reduce staff from 5,000 to 2,500. During this exercise, 1,000 employees accepted VSEP at a cost to taxpayers of $360 million.
By 2015, however, WASA’s workforce had ballooned right back to the original 5,000 figure, which triggered the 2016 audit.
It is disheartening that those charged with the business of saving taxpayers’ money and getting things on a financially even keel, seemed hell-bent on ensuring the utility continued to operate with unsustainable staffing levels.
How else can one explain why, after $360 million was spent on VSEP payments, salaries at the utility increased by $27 million? Retroactive payments of additional commuted overtime hours and special project allowances to six members of the Public Service Association (PSA) WASA section were also allegedly approved between January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2015. How did no one in authority ask a question? Who was guarding the guards?
It is clear that bad management and corrupt practices at WASA cost this country billions and it must be stopped. The largesse that flowed like water there benefitted a few but never brought relief to thousands of citizens.
Minister Marvin Gonzales may be on the right track and we hope the audits and investigations into WASA will be just the start. One hopes there is no politics at play in the audits being made public.
What has happened at WASA should not be swept under the carpet. The full brunt of the law must be brought to bear on those found guilty of wrongdoing and let the chips fall where they may.
We hope that Minister Gonzales does not stop at WASA. Bring on the audits at T&TEC and other public utilities. Let the country know that you are serious about stamping out corruption wherever it exists. There has been too much wastage in this country to the detriment of taxpayers.