WASA is on a drive to collect over $700m owed by customers and intends to auction off delinquent customers properties to recover the sum.
Seven commercial properties were recently listed for sale by the public authority after other attempts to recover payment failed.
According to WASA chairman Romney Thomas: “I can’t tell you with any specificity how many times we have been pursuing them. The last step in the process is we would have sent them disconnection notices, request for payments, ask them to come in to meet us. That is the last step, so it would have been a long period before we take this step.”
Thomas said he could not say how long the property owners have been owing the authority since they were different properties and different people during different periods.
He did say that the amount owed to WASA – not just these seven properties – was over $700 million. On the authority’s website, there were 15 properties up for sale.
“This is the absolute step that we want to take, not one we want to take very lightly. It is a very draconian step but it is our responsibility to recover what is outstanding. We have a responsibility to provide water for everybody. If we don’t get paid for the service, we can’t provide service for the law-abiding citizens.”
Late last year acting CEO Alan Poon King had urged customers to pay their bills, saying water management, water treatment and water distribution cannot be done free of charge.
“We want to ensure people pay their bills as we need the funds to treat and distribute the water. We ask people to work with the authority so that all can benefit. It’s a simple thing, pay your bill to avoid disconnection.”
He said WASA’s rates were already low when compared to rates in other Caribbean countries yet people are lax in paying their bills.
“The message is you need to do your part. The rates equate to just about the maximum that you can pay for a residential property, about $3 per day. WASA has a responsibility, but customers have a responsibility as well.”
WASA is an authority regulated by the Regulated Industries Commission.
Commenting on the move, Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte said the authority required payments to fix leaks, prepare roads to get more water and to fulfil its mandate to provide water to the people of TT.
“At the end of the day, I think WASA, as with any business, also has to be able to pay the bills that they have for suppliers, for the people who do the work. Cash is king, cash flow is king, so I think WASA, in its management...it is important for anybody who is managing the business has to look at that cash flow and manage the receipt of that. I think that is what the management of what WASA is doing as any good manager would attempt to do.”
In TT, WASA clients receive their billings every quarter (every three months). They are given two billing periods of grace before the authority takes action.