PUBLIC Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte has come out in defence of police from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) who confiscated pumps which they claim were being used by farmers in Aranguez to channel water from drains to their crops.
Le Hunte said the WASA police were only doing their jobs and denied that farmers were targeted because they are “Indian” or from “Opposition” constituencies, as several organisations have asserted, including Pundit Satyanand Maharaj of the Satya Anand Ashram at Aranguez. Affected farmers have met with lawyers to seek legal redress from WASA.
“I don’t target anybody. I give directives,” Le Hunte said in an interview with the media after the commissioning of the Savonetta Booster Pump Station on Friday.
“There is not race, there is no discrimination, there is nothing sinister about it."
He said he was at pains to understand the charges of discrimination being made, as this is not the first time the authority has clamped down on famers and others who have been extracting water illegally.
“Under the previous regime in 2013 there was a clampdown of these same farmers and there was a clampdown of farmers in 2014. So it is not the first time.
“The utilities are doing their job. People complain about WASA not doing their jobs, and this is one time they are doing their jobs and encouraging citizens to follow the law and do what is right,”
He said the concept of trying to reduce the level of "non-revenue water" and trying to impose bans was put in place for a reason. He said after an amnesty was granted, directives were given to ensure compliance.
“That’s simply what they (WASA police) are doing. I don’t go about telling anyone to go after farmers.”
He also gave another directive to WASA to start collecting the outstanding $700 million owed by customers, including $500 million from residential customers, to make the authority more efficient.
“I am not going to micromanage every single person WASA tries to disconnect. That is not my job as the minister.
"I think we need to make WASA more efficient, and the employees of WASA need to be empowered to their jobs. When they do their jobs, we have to support them, and by the same token, when they don’t do their jobs, we have to come down on them, rather than try to divide. “
Responding to comments that it was harsh to seize the pumps, as crops are drying up, Le Hunte said the pumps were removed as evidence of illegal water extraction.
“A good police would have to get the evidence before you go to court.”
He said as much as he sympathised with the situation, the objective is for WASA to become more efficient, by improving its storage and infrastructure, reducing leaks and by customers practising conservation.
Le Hunte said to fix WASA requires significant capital expenditure and customers paying their bills could make a big difference in achieving this goal.