Murky waters at WASA

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales - Photo by Jeff Mayers
Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales - Photo by Jeff Mayers

SINCE FRIDAY, there has been a back-and-forth between the Government and Opposition over the issue of possible retrenchment at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

As usual, the focus has been on form, not substance.

The Opposition alleges a specific plan to fire 2,500 workers has been drafted, while neither the Government nor WASA has seen such a document. Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales described any such paperwork as a “fake document” and accused the Opposition of “scandalous UNC behaviour.”

But it was Mr Gonzales who, mere weeks ago, announced a plan to axe 213 managers at WASA, and to slash its operating costs by 25 per cent. He also said workers will be able to retool and reskill for new positions, even as he promised union engagement.

There’s a legitimate question of the extent of cuts to take place at WASA.

The answer, however, may not entirely lie in the hands of either the Government or the Opposition, but rather the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC). It is currently doing a rate review for both WASA and the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC).

The RIC, which was established by Parliament, has far-ranging powers and responsibilities. It is the entity tasked with conducting rate reviews and it has the power to advise cabinet ministers about matters relating to its statutory mandate, which includes ensuring consumers are treated fairly.

It is unclear when exactly the RIC will complete its exercise, which began in 2020. (Some budget documents suggest this could happen next year). But it is conceivable tariff levels and pricing systems will either reflect or have a direct bearing on WASA’s staffing levels.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert, in his budget, made plain the Government envisions a new pricing system for both water and electricity, while it also seeks to extend rebates to low-income and vulnerable groups.

Meanwhile, WASA itself this week said it “is desirous of a rate increase and has been preparing the required documents for submission to the RIC.” The authority noted it is required to submit plans for its business to the RIC and it foresees any changes as being beneficial to the people of TT.

It added these changes will “also change the circumstances of a yet-to-be-determined number of the current employees.”

Not only is the staffing level at WASA seemingly in flux, but what consumers can expect to pay in the coming fiscal year for water and power is also brought into question at a moment when the country is grappling with fuel increases and rising food inflation.

Government, as a key stakeholder in the RIC process, should do its best to provide greater clarity on when any changes – to rates or staffing – could take effect.


"Murky waters at WASA"

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