THE manager at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) who cleared an employee of any wrongdoing following a complaint against him has signed an affidavit saying he was repeatedly called upon to change his findings in the matter.
He also said he was denied several requests to interview the Minister of Public Utilities for a “witness statement in the matter”.
The matter being referred to is a complaint against WASA worker Cecil Matthews, who was allegedly seen allowing someone else to drive a company vehicle issued to him while on a job in Chaguaramas on January 30.
During a discussion on July 12, the manager, Lancelot Lezama, told the Sunday Express he was informed by those calling on him to change his conclusion in the matter, and to get the employee to admit wrongdoing, that it was Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales who made the initial report.
Lezama said he had no independent confirmation of the details in this matter, and had to rely on the word of those with whom he spoke.
And none of the people with whom he spoke corroborated the story which alleged the employee had committed any offence.
He said he advised those who were seeking to have him change his report that “what they were doing was wrong, and in my view, they ought to be careful in their next steps”.
This is the matter which, upon investigation by this newspaper, led to the resignation on July 7 of then-WASA executive director Dr Lennox Sealy.
In a media statement on July 8, however, Minister Gonzales said Sealy resigned following discussions between them both, in which he expressed dissatisfaction with Sealy’s leadership regarding the pace of the nascent WASA transformation and the aborted water disconnection drive last month.
This meeting and those discussions took place on July 8, a full day after the minister said Sealy had tendered his resignation.
In the news release he issued on July 8, Gonzales made no mention of the purported conversation with Sealy on the evening of July 6, from which Sealy said the minister ordered him not to go ahead with an interview with this newspaper.
Later that same evening, Sealy left a voice message with this reporter, saying the matter had “gone legal already” and he was advised that no article should be published with his (Sealy’s) input.
None of this featured either in the minister’s media statement or in his interactions with reporters in the immediate aftermath of the Sealy resignation.
It is as though these discussions never took place.
In an interview with Express reporter Michelle Loubon and which appeared on July 10, Gonzales said he saw reference to “ministerial interference” in the previous day’s report on the matter, “and not even the article produced any evidence of ministerial interference”.
He said this was “very unfortunate”.
Through one of his advisers, Gonzales has rejected a request for a response to these latest developments.
He said it was “unfortunate” that in two articles by this reporter, there was no attempt to reach him.
It was explained that one was a news story in which no one was named, therefore, there was no need to contact him.
The second was a column, which was an opinion based on independent interpretations of what he had said and did not say, and there was no obligation to hear from him on that either.
The minister’s adviser responded by saying these comments were “noted”.
Lezama is the manager, Finance-Corporate Services Division, at WASA. He has a known track record in conducting internal investigations at the authority.
In the affidavit dated July 12, co-signed by Commissioner of Affidavits Neela Rampaul-Seecharan, he said he conducted an investigation in early March after having been assigned these duties by manager, Industrial Relations, Kawal Chun.
He interviewed five people, including the worker, Cecil Matthews, a plant operator II at the authority.
After submitting his report on March 3, he said two senior managers called him into a meeting on March 5.
At that meeting, he said he was instructed to “go back to the employee and urge him to tell the truth”.
He said one of the managers pointed out that she had instructions from the executive director to suspend Matthews, despite what his report contained.
“She said I should tell him that a ‘high official’ outside of the authority saw him and if he co-operated, that the authority would be lenient on him,” he said.
At that meeting, also, he said this manager advised he should not pursue getting a witness statement from the Minister of Public Utilities.
“This was after I urged her to contact the executive director—Dr Sealy—in order to arrange for the minister to give testimony in the matter. Without independent testimony I cannot find Mr Matthews culpable, especially since the only two pieces of direct witness statements I obtained so far were from the accused himself and Mr Springer, both of whom testified that no one else drove the vehicle other than Mr Matthews on that day.”
Stanley Springer is a part-time caretaker at the authority’s water treatment plant on Macqueripe Road, Chaguaramas.
He had gone with Matthews to conduct a check on the facilities on the day in question.
Lezama said in the affidavit he urged the manager to contact the executive director “in order for the minister to give testimony in the matter”, and “advised them jointly that what they were doing was wrong in my view and that they ought to be careful in their next steps”.
He said he was also approached on two subsequent occasions, on May 20 and May 21, with similar demands, which he stoutly resisted.
He said on May 20, for example, after returning to work from vacation, he was called on the phone by the other manager who requested that he change the conclusion and recommendation in his report.
“I resisted and told him that what he was asking me to do was ultra vires the procedure, unethical and basically unlawful, and that I would not accede to his request,” he said.
“I advised him that whoever was making that request ought to put it in an e-mail to me, to respond accordingly. Afterwards, I forcefully repeated my objection to his request, at which point he ended the telephone call.
“I read from my copy of the investigative report and effectively summarised how I came to my assessment of the findings and subsequent conclusion,” Lezama said in the affidavit.
“I explained that, effectively, there was no independent witness in the matter and that during the course of the investigation, I had literally begged Ms (name called) to contact him (Dr Sealy) in order that he can arrange for the minister to give me a statement in the matter.”
Asked by the Sunday Express why would he have wanted to interview Minister Gonzales on this matter, Lezama said it was because he was told by one of his seniors that it was this minister who made the complaint against Matthews.
He had indeed been interdicted and placed on half-pay on March 15, one week after he had been cleared of any wrongdoing, based on a memo from Lezama dated March 8.
He was “exonerated” in early June, having been made to sign a document saying he would not pursue any claims against the authority in the matter.