MINISTER of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales has said the Water and Sewerage Authority’s (WASA) action against Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke must not be seen as a direct attack.
Instead, he said, it should be viewed as part of the authority’s transformational process.
“It’s not about Watson Duke against the government or Duke against Sealy or Duke against the minister.
"This is the government undertaking the transformation of WASA. So I have asked them (WASA executive) to focus on the work of the transformation and not to make it anything personal,” he told Newsday on Monday.
Duke, an employee of the authority, was asked in a letter by WASA CEO Lennox Sealy to account for his absence from WASA for some 11 years – on no-pay leave – to focus on his role at the PSA.
In a final warning letter to Duke on April 14, WASA cited a conflict of interest between Duke’s portfolios as PSA head and assistant manager at WASA. It also questioned his time off as union leader and post as minority leader in the Tobago House of Assembly.
Sealy threatened to terminate Duke’s employment if he failed to reply.
However, Duke did not reply by the April 21 deadline and in a Facebook live broadcast he challenged Sealy, “If you name boss, you fire me.”
On April 19, Duke's attorney Imran Ali wrote to Sealy saying there was no basis for Duke to be dismissed. Ali said any such action would be "harsh, oppressive and amount to a criminal offence and unconstitutional."
Duke has since called on Sealy to retract the letter.
On Monday, when contacted, Duke told Newsday, “No further development on my side…It’s his (Sealy’s) ball to bowl.”
Attempts to reach Sealy for comment were unsuccessful.
Gonzales said this matter should not shift the focus away from the authority’s efforts to transform the organisation into a more efficient and reliable institution.
Gonzales further dismissed all criticism linking the authority’s move against Duke to his position as head of the PSA, as a trade unionist, and his political affiliation in Tobago.
“He is trying to make himself a matter. I have done my best to indicate to the country that the government is focused on the transformation of WASA…There is nothing personal against anyone within the organisation, and the transformation will not be pulled into any personality clashes between anyone.”
WASA is expected to respond to Duke before the end of the week. Meanwhile, the authority is seeking legal advice on its next step.
Gonzales said the executive was instructed to seek legal advice before he responds to Duke’s lawyers.
As the authority reportedly moves full speed ahead with its transformation, Gonzales said he saw it as critical to establish legal teams to support Sealy with any other challenges that lay ahead.
“I have asked that a legal team be put together, because these matters are heavily based in sound IR (industrial relations) practice, and if you don’t handle it cautiously, it could undermine the entire transformation process."