WASA pays poor woman $1.7m


Here is another saddening story of a strong-arm government agency using taxpayers’ money to take undue advantage of a poor senior citizen.

Attorney Keith Scotland won 70-year-old Janet Bernard Rousseau an award of almost $2 million for WASA’s breach of statutory duty – failing to repair a burst water main – since 2003.

The came the remarkable advice from Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales to complaining, suffering citizens: “sue WASA” for statutory neglect if there is a legitimate case for damages.

While the court remains a friend of the poor, it costs, Minister.

The compassionate Mr Gonzales added: “This is a poor woman from Laventille. Recently, we had another poor citizen from Penal that was allowed to be dragged through an entire judicial system, paying a lot of money, to represent a very powerful authority that has the resources to defend themselves.” He was referring to last December’s Privy Council ruling against WASA’s statutory neglect for damaging leaks and drainage which resulted in the collapsed Penal house.

But who cares? It is only taxpayers’ money.

In last week’s ruling against WASA, Justice Joan Charles said: “The defendant (WASA) was negligent in that it breached its duty of care to the claimant by failing to repair its broken mains…None of the evidence adduced by the defendant was able to weaken the claimant’s case that her (Laventille) house had been destroyed by water leaking into her property.” Justice Charles declared, “The defendant should not have forced the claimant to take this case to trial.” (For Rousseau, attorneys Keith Scotland, Anne Dookie. For WASA, attorneys Robin Otway, Summer Sandy).

It appeared to be strong-arm spite and bureaucratic bullying against poor old people. The stresses, strains and hard-earned legal expenses reflect grievous social injustice committed by a government agency again.

And this is while several government ministries cry sympathy for seniors.

The point has been reached where government officials who breach statutory rules should pay part of the costs from their own pockets. They will think more carefully about litigation.

In the “Penal citizen’s case,” WASA was ordered to pay some $2 milliion of taxpayers' money, with the Privy Council (PC) admonishing WASA and its lawyer (Keston McQuilkin) for bringing the case, since both High Court and Appeal Court, with “concurrent findings,” had already ruled against WASA. It therefore seemed spiteful and unduly oppressive against poor house-owners.

But who cared? It’s just taxpayers’ money.

Mr Gonzales now strongly advises the public agency: "This should not have reached this state. This matter should have been resolved, especially if WASA recognises it does not have the evidence to support its defence."

That is what Justice Charles advised too. So did the Privy Council in the Penal house case. But it is just taxpayers’ money.

Mr Gonzales reported that WASA has already spent $100 million in litigation against complaining citizens. He commendably plans, with WASA chairman Ravindra Nanga, to do an audit of WASA’s litigation process and costs.

The robustly candid comments last December by the five Privy Council judges against WASA’s statutory neglect, repair delays and Justice Charles’ ruling, should be taken very seriously by government and its various local government and statutory agencies.

The Privy Council noted last December that while WASA had some responsibility, the regional corporation also neglected its duty at that time to do “repairs to the road and drains” to help mitigate the damage.

Given attorney Scotland’s successful action and the taxpayers’ money involved, this Laventille matter and others like it are worthy of attention not only from Mr Gonzales but also Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi and Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, for fairness and guidance. The AG’s constitutional role is “to be responsible for the administration of legal affairs in TT,” especially for “civil proceedings.” (Section 76(2)).

The records will show the number of unresolved citizens’ complaints against several statutory bodies and regional corporations for statutory neglect and delayed repairs.

Four months ago, this column suggested, as a healing, prevention procedure, that the Local Government Minister, like Mr Gonzales, dutifully do a survey of such public complaints and litigation to help ensure that the statutory duties under his charge are early and properly complied with. These cases make the government look bad.


"WASA pays poor woman $1.7m"

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