TALK of a massive retrenchment threat at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) was yesterday dismissed as “unfounded” by Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales.

This follows a claim by Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke that following the appointment of a Cabinet sub-committee to analyse the functions of WASA, thousands will eventually be fired.

That position was shared yesterday by Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee, who has called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to be transparent as to any changes to the State-run agency.

Rowley recently appointed the sub-committee that is tasked with identifying and addressing inefficiencies at WASA and is expected to produce, by November, a comprehensive report to Cabinet on improving water distribution throughout the country.

Gonzales said the committee will look at issues within management, the agency’s aging infrastructure, lack of capital investment and water distribution capacity.

“Our responsibility is to identify WASA’s challenges and make recommendations,” Gonzales said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring that WASA functions and discharges its duties as it is supposed to.”

The committee is chaired by Gonzales and includes as members Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles, Energy Minister Franklin Khan and Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox.

‘Unfortunate and misleading’

The minister was uncertain, however, as to where the issue of retrenchment would have arisen with the appointment of the committee and said this may have been sparked by a report from the Caribbean Development Bank which stated that WASA was overstaffed by some 4,000 workers.

Gonzales said the report was released some time ago and it was not clear how that figure came into being or where the Bank would have come by that data. That information was not before either him or the Cabinet, he said.

That information was possibly being ascribed to the Government as a policy position but this was incorrect, Gonzales said.

“To make those statements, all the hype and talk of retrenchment, is very unfortunate and misleading,” the minister said, referring to talk that the committee will put a massive retrenchment exercise into effect.

Lee: Patrimony at stake

Opposition MP David Lee has, in the meantime, called on the Prime Minister to “be honest, open and transparent with the affairs of WASA”.

Lee, in a statement on Wednesday, recalled what he said was a “track record of national betrayal” by the People’s National Movement (PNM) and referred to the shutting down in 2019 of State-owned oil company Petrotrin.

“In light of the Prime Minister’s recent appointment of a Cabinet Sub-committee to submit recommendations and a framework for the restructuring of WASA by November 30, 2020, the Prime Minister must tell the population if the critical State company will suffer the same faith as Petrotrin with any possible degree of privatisation, possible job losses as well as future downscaling of key functions of the entity,” Lee stated.

He added:

“Our citizens must never forget, when the shutdown of our national patrimony of Petrotrin occurred, the narrative began with the similar modus operandi of the appointment of a committee to restructure, the discussion of the company’s debt burden, laments of overstaffing and calls for efficiency, all of which are being said about WASA by the Government at this time.”

On behalf of thousands of WASA workers, he said, “we must ask if these workers will face the same fate of those of Petrotrin who were initially told that only excess staff was being sent home then ‘all, all, all’ lost their jobs, leaving thousands displaced and facing dire consequences up until this very day”.

Lee further stated that the question was necessary “given the Rowley-led PNM’s track record of national betrayal in the past when they blatantly lied to our population by saying, ‘the Government is not closing down Petrotrin’, yet two years later, the once-vibrant energy pulse and national revenue generator, our refinery, sits idle without any clear direction for re-commissioning or resumption of its pertinent services”.

The MP also stated: “The Government needs to be honest, open and transparent with the affairs of WASA, especially at a time when all of our citizens, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds have been affected by this Pandemic. WASA belongs to the people of this country and as a result, any action which must be taken must be done with full Parliamentary scrutiny, unlike the selfish, secretive and heartless manner in which Petrotrin was dealt with.”

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