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WASA WORKERS IN THE GUNSIGHTS BY Ken Howell

posted 2 Oct 2018, 07:19 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 2 Oct 2018, 07:28 ]
Two articles appeared in the Trinidad Guardian on Sunday 23rd September 2018, headlined: WASA REMAINS BURDEN ON TAXPAYERS and WASA cuts down on contractors. These two articles were written by Joel Julien and Sharlene Rampersad respectfully. They commented on what was described, as the low rates which the citizens pay for water, as compared to other countries in the region, and the high prevalence of the volumes of water wasted through leakage, because of the slow pace at which the numerous amounts of reports of leaking pipelines are replaced or repaired.

The question asked, as to whether the Minister of Public Utilities was contemplating a reduction in the workforce, as a result of the report making the rounds in the media, concerning the existence of staff in excess of the requirements of WASA. 

These matters as well as the question of the poor governance systems and practices, nepotism, corruption and the general abuse of the people’s patrimony, were in essence the subject of discussion. All of the issues on which the two articles focused, are not new. 

These are issues which have been around for quite a long time now. WASA just like Petrotrin, T&TEC, TSTT and other state enterprises has always been the feeding troughs of the PNM. The UNC, in its various incarnations, was not bashful; they too helped themselves, to their share of the pie. They all knew of the poor governance systems, the lack of transparency, the slow pace at which financial audited accounts are presented to the Auditor General’s department and to the Parliament. 

The real issue is, since that is well known, then why the successive governments failed to fix the problem. Well, that was because state enterprises have always been the cash cows from which the politicians their family, friends and financiers, are usually able to draw their milk and steaks, with which they are accustomed to fatten themselves. But that is not all. Many years ago, a PNM government, established a number of Special Purpose Companies in order to get around public service regulations and speed up the process by which the government was able to implement its budgeted programmes. 

These special purpose companies, in most instances, were not intended, to earn revenue. Their real purpose was to spend monies allocated to them to achieve stated objectives of the government. But in most instances they became conduits for the siphoning of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of friends, families, and financiers of the political parties occupying the seat of political power. 

The culture of mismanagement, nepotism over-staffing and all the ills which are affecting state enterprises, the public utilities and the regional health authorities, are all part of a campaign designed to damage the confidence of the public in the ability of the state to manage these assets of the people efficiently. And if you listen to the comments of the public whenever they visit these institutions such as Hospitals and offices in the public service to do business, you will discover that there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the quality of the service that is being provided. 

That attitude indicates that, unwittingly, the public is becoming a party to a conspiracy designed by the architect of neo-liberalism to recruit them into a campaign to legitimise the transfer of their assets into the hands of the local and foreign private sector. In the case of WASA, the complaints are about leakages and the length of time that the authority takes to repair leaking pipelines. In the case of the regional health authorities, it is the shortage of drugs, the length of time it takes for patients waiting on a date for cataract surgery. There is also the question of the shortage of beds and the out-dated recording and filing systems currently in use in those health institutions. 

The same is true in WASA, in Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue Authority and the Licensing Authority. All of these institutions are
places where the public go on a daily basis to be punished by inefficient systems which are being managed by incompetent management, charged with the task of serving the public, with the use of systems that are the relics of an out-dated colonial system. 

The politicians are all aware of this. They all agree that these management systems must be changed. The big question, however, has always been in whose interest? Many years ago the government of the PNM set about the task of providing the answers. 

Through what is known as health sector reform and public sector reform. But the changes which will be implemented through these reforms, and the effect that they will have on the public interest, will be to transform what we now regard as public goods into products, the cost of which we now bear as taxpayers, into commodities which we will now have to purchase from private institutions. 

In other words, the moneys which we distribute to the various public utilities and state enterprises, which we own as citizens and which we elect a government to manage through the establishment of boards, will end up in the hands of private sector entities both foreign and local. 

The services which these institutions now provide as bad as it is at present, will cost us more because we will be paying higher taxes, and our tax dollars will be transferred into the hands of the private sector companies and what some of us are led to believe is free, but is paid for with our tax dollars, will henceforth become commodities which we will now have to buy at inflated prices from private institutions. 

Le Hunte, Minister of Public Utilities. The man chosen to do the hatchet job
The Minister of Public Utilities, who pretends that there will be no retrenchment at WASA, believes that he has succeeded in calming the fears of the workers and the trade union movement, when he said that the Authority will only be terminating the Contractors and that the two thousand excess employees will be engaged to repair leaks and replace old pipelines. The decision to not execute the planned retrenchment of the two thousand workers, at this time, is a tactical one. 

The fact of the matter is that Contractors employ workers and are all part of the network of patronage, which fuels the system of corruption which has long since been a den of iniquity in that Utility. The Minister can speak of the government’s intention to terminate contracts, but will realise, that it is party members and faithful contributors who will be affected. WASA has always been and will continue to be a PNM party group, that is, if the multi- national lending agencies allow it to continue. 

The frantic decision of the government, to close down Petrotrin is because these international lending agencies are now demanding that the government make good its long standing promise to divest itself of state enterprises before it can qualify to receive benefits from the windows of these institutions. But the government would not tell the public that that is why the public is currently experiencing the trauma that the announced decision to close Petrotrin is causing. So we must take the Minister’s comments with two handfuls of salt.
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