The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) staff is bloated at both ends—at the management and worker levels.
The report of the Cabinet subcommittee mandated to review the country’s water provider says “when compared to the regional benchmark of eight employees per 1,000 connections, WASA’s staff per connection ratio of 13 employees per 1,000 is unacceptably high”.
This, the report added, has resulted in “high duplication and redundancy in business operations. The organisation also suffers from inefficiencies...at all levels, including at the executive management level.”
WASA has 426 managers and a workforce of 4,803 workers.
Many of its executives received bonuses every year, notwithstanding the apparent lack of performance.
In Barbados and Jamaica, in similar organisations, the executive management comprises about eight to ten people.
These were some of the issues considered by the Cabinet subcommittee chaired by Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and mandated to review WASA’s operations and determine a strategy for enabling it to achieve its mandate.
The top-heavy management structure was facilitated when in 2014, a parallel structure had been set up within WASA and all the positions were filled with contract employees, most of whom had been on the permanent establishment and who were moved for increased emoluments.
These employees maintained their substantive positions within the organisation while receiving the new emoluments under their contracts.
The Express was able to obtain a number of these contracts.
Former acting CEO Alan Poon King, by contract dated January 1, 2015, was hired on contract as head, Strategic Planning and Investment.
“Immediately preceding the execution of the agreement, the said head, Strategic Planning and Investment, was a permanent employee of the authority and the parties agreed that the permanent employment be suspended by the said head, Strategic Planning and Investment, proceeding on ‘no-pay’ leave to enable him into the said agreement,” the contract said.
It said upon expiration of the agreement, the head, SP&I would resume duties in his permanent position or its equivalent in the authority.
Under the contract, it was also agreed that “all the rights, benefits and entitlements attaching to, arising from or by virtue of the said permanent employment shall be preserved and maintained as a prerequisite” to Poon King entering the contract.
Poon King’s emoluments as head of SP&I included a monthly salary of $49,172.72; housing allowance of $2,000; an annual salary increase to be determined by the board of commissioners but subject to a minimum increase of three per cent of the salary of the preceding year; an annual incentive bonus at a rate of 15 per cent of annual salary; a vehicle with a showroom price not exceeding $290,000, which would be fully maintained by WASA.
He was also entitled to receive a 20 per cent gratuity of the total annual fee received under the contract.
Contracts for other senior managers had similar provisions.
One manager also received professional and club fees of $1,000 per annum and reimbursement of entertainment expenses up to a maximum of $1,000 a month.
The contracts were signed by then-acting CEO Gerard Yorke and corporate secretary Dion Abdool.
WASA has eight executive directors, 19 executive heads, 32 senior managers, 88 department managers, 25 assistant managers, 35 section managers, 23 unit managers and 196 supervisors, making a total of 426 managers.
Management ceded responsibility to union
The report said the “top-heavy management” at WASA, in order to secure industrial peace, had “ceded control of the authority to the unions, to the point where the union had now effectively subsumed many management responsibilities”.
The report noted the trade unions will be reluctant to support the transition of WASA and would “engender employee dissatisfaction and the withholding of labour”.
At a news conference yesterday, Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke slammed the proposals for restructuring WASA.
The report said the operating deficit of the company at the end of 2020 reached $2 billion. Among the inefficiencies cited in the report were the “corruption-laced water-trucking services”.
Noting customers were not supposed to pay for WASA’s truck-borne water, the report said the service was inefficiently managed and as a consequence, its operation is fraught with many problems.
“The situation has rendered the service uncertain and unreliable, and has spawned the development of a thriving, parallel and illegal water-trucking service where hapless, desperate customers are willing to pay up to $400 for a truck-borne water supply, the source of which, in some cases, cannot be verified,” the report said.
The population is unconvinced of WASA’s ability to provide a reliable service, exasperated by the sheer inefficiency of its call centre operations, and not trusting of WASA’s management and staff to improve their offering, the report said.
A general lack of accountability pervades the organisation, the report said.
“WASA’s executives are not held to account, deploy very limited controls, are not effectively regulated, apply very antiquated, technology-deficient systems, and are generally devoid of an understanding of WASA’s role, relationship and the consequences of the utility’s actions on the national population,” the report said.
It said after decades of monopoly operations and $21.6 billion in annual subventions between 2010 and 2021, WASA did not possess the in-house equipment to effectively undertake one of its core functions—pipeline installations and repairs—and was “heavily reliant on contractors”, to whom it is heavily indebted.
Among the recommendations for “critical action”, the committee said were:
• separate the Water Resources Agency from WASA
• establish a performance agreement and timelines for the board and the committee to achieve the Government’s policy intent
• appoint an interim management team, headed by an individual with extensive knowledge of, and experience in leading transformation in, the water sector and comprising a core group with skills and competencies in water management.
The interim management team will have responsibility for working with the board of commissioners in the transitioning process and stabilising the operations of WASA to prevent further decline in the level of service to the population and financial haemorrhaging.
The management team would also be required to develop a roadmap to remove the country’s reliance on desalinated water, particularly in the area of potable water.
It would be required to facilitate the requirements of the Regulated Industries Commission for an urgent tariff review.
The committee said the mistakes of previous attempts at reform and right-sizing were repeated. “The VSEP exercise of 2012 to 2015 cost the authority $396,579,367 for 2,352 employees, but the employee population remained at a consistent level of 4,844, 5,350, 4,910, 4,833, and 5,285 in the years 2011-2015.
It said despite receiving $21.6 billion, the authority had been unable to fulfil its mandate, with only an estimated 34 per cent of the population getting a 24/7 supply of water.
The membership of the Cabinet subcommittee comprised (apart from chairman Gonzales), Franklin Khan, Camille Robinson-Regis, Stuart Young, Donna Cox and Pennelope Beckles.