WASA shame

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales. - File photo by Angelo Marcelle
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales. - File photo by Angelo Marcelle

EIGHT MONTHS. That’s how long the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has left the country without the benefit of the full findings of its probe into the death of Kern Ettienne.

Mr Ettienne, 39, worked for WASA for two decades.

But it took just one moment on October 22, 2023, for his life to end. He was in a trench in San Fernando when a dirt mound collapsed. He was declared dead at hospital.

WASA promised “a full investigation.”

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales told Parliament, “If any negligence is found on the part of WASA, we will allow the chips to fall where they may.”

The authority even went as far as to promise publicly to pay the funeral expenses.

That was about a year ago.

No substantial updates emerged until this week, when WASA belatedly announced the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) had apparently filed formal proceedings in the Industrial Court complaining of six breaches.

The exact nature of the charges; when they were brought; and what took place at a case-management hearing on June 7 have not been detailed.

What seems clear is OSHA has already ascertained what WASA is unwilling or unable to disclose.

On June 9, WASA issued a media release saying its “internal investigation into the incident identified a number of procedural and safety deficiencies.”

Yet on the same day, this newspaper was led to understand through a company attorney that the matter was still being studied and was before the board.

“Once the investigation comes back and there is culpability, then the issue of compensation will be discussed,” he said.

What is the truth?

WASA’s questionable record on worker safety extends beyond this incident.

High Court judge Justice Frank Seepersad earlier this year found the authority “negligent” in a case in which it failed to provide a safe workplace for another employee, Seon Duncan, 38, who fell from a defective ladder in 2018 in Tobago.

The judge found Mr Duncan was partly to blame for his accident. However, Justice Seepersad criticised safety standards more generally.

“The court is concerned on the evidence that WASA, in 2018, did not have proper systems in place,” he said. “Whether OSHA signed off on the ladder or not, the ladder should not have been on the premises.”

Mr Ettienne’s case is a study in the kinds of situations, too common now, that lend themselves to allegations of cover-ups by corporate and quasi-public entities.

The site of the accident was mysteriously filled in, the union was shut out, the family given a runaround – such reports appear to confirm that in this country workers fall, fatally, into a hole of no accountability.

That cannot be. The State must answer.


"WASA shame"

More in this section