President of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke said the solution to issues facing the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is to pump more money into it.
Duke was speaking at a press conference at the PSA's head office on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain on Wednesday.
He said the authority needs money and support from the government to move forward, and its workers do not have the resources they need.
“They have been working. They are not lazy people. They want money, materials, and technology.”
Duke was responding to Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales’ announcement of the removal of Alan Poon King as CEO of the authority on Tuesday. Poon King has been replaced by chairman Lennox Sealy, who now has full control of the authority as executive director as well.
Gonzales said the new management and the Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Minister of Housing and Urban Development Pennelope Beckles, will put forward recommendations on settling its $650 million debt. He also said a lot of the work done by private contractors can be done in-house.
But Duke said, “WASA has been stable for the last 11 years since I have been president (of the PSA),” adding that the government is behaving as though the authority is dead and that is not so.
Duke said during the covid19 pandemic WASA workers, alongside healthcare workers, served the country well.
“(WASA) workers are also the heroes, along with healthcare workers.”
He said the authority has been carefully managed over the years.
“We have found the management in WASA to be efficient. They have just not been supported by politicians.”
Duke said he was speaking as president of the PSA and of National Trade Union Centre of TT (NATUC).
The union has been working with management for years and has seen results, he said.
“We are prepared to work with management again. But we are not prepared to work with politicians. Any management placed here, we are willing to work with them."
He said the government used WASA managers for political gain before abandoning them altogether.
“(Gonzales) gave Mr Poon King a hard slap in the face,” said Duke. “If I was Mr Poon King, I would have resigned immediately. He disrespected the man.”
Duke referred to an excerpt from the executive summary of the Cabinet sub-committee’s report on WASA read by Gonzales on Tuesday. It said, “The WASA has become an unproductive, unresponsive organisation that has deteriorated and is no longer efficiently serving the people of TT.
"In numerous instances and over many decades, efficiency was sacrificed for, inter alia, political patronage, and management accountability exchanged for industrial stability.”
Duke said this assessment of the authority was an insult to Poon King.
Poon King had acted as CEO of the authority for four years. At Tuesday’s press conference, Gonzales thanked Poon King for his hard work and dedication to the authority and his willingness to collaborate with the ministry over the years.
Duke said he does not expect the ministry to reason with workers, and warned they should prepare themselves for "war."
“I am saying to WASA do not think for a second that they want to reason…Ask Petrotrin. You gave them a promise nobody would lose their job… Just as you did not reason with the 12 assemblymen in Tobago, but you are hastening to pass the (THA (Amendment)) bill in Parliament and then you want to come and sit with us.”
Duke is also the leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots, who won six of the 12 THA seats in January.
He said he plans to call a meeting with all trade union heads to address the WASA issue.
In 2019, the ministry said water leakage accounted for the loss of approximately 102 million gallons of water a day. In January 2019, it enlisted the Israeli-based UTILIS Corporation to help reduce wastage caused by leaks and ageing infrastructure.
Gonzales said his next mandate is to put a programme of critical works for Cabinet approval which would entail rehabilitating existing plants that are constantly breaking down and causing disruptions across the country.
He said in the dry season an average of 24 per cent of the population receives a 24/7 supply of water, and during the rainy season, 45 per cent, which he admitted was unsatisfactory. He said the ministry hopes using underground wells will help increase water supply.