All 426 management positions at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) will be made redundant in the first phase of the transformation plan currently being implemented at the cash-strapped public utility. This measure alone will significantly reduce WASA’s monthly wage bill, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales told the Sunday Guardian in an interview on Friday.
He explained that while the plan is to cut management positions by 50 per cent, within the new executive structure all the current positions will be eliminated.
“There will be new job descriptions for all managerial positions which will be advertised externally and internally. This would allow all managers at WASA to apply for the posts based on their requisite qualifications and experience,” he said.
“All positions will become redundant in order to fill the new positions in the new executive structure. So, in other words, all positions within the current structure would come to an end.”
Gonzales said approximately 200 management positions will have to be filled and “all departments that are led by a manager, senior managers or various levels of managers will be impacted by this transformation.”
He added: “In some cases, we would not have a need for some departments.”
The minister said nepotism and favouritism will be eradicated from the hiring process.
“A lot of people who are engineers inside of WASA, or call themselves engineers, or occupy an engineer position...they have not studied engineering or hold an engineering degree from a recognised university,” Gonzales said.
“When you have a restructured organisation with new job descriptions and qualifications you can only occupy (a position) if you have the requisite skills and qualifications. What happened in the past was the creation of positions to stack these organisations with friends and family, politicians and people who are aligned with the union. That is the reason why the organisation is in shambles.”
Gonzales said deep-seated systemic dysfunctionalities have to be corrected urgently to improve WASA’s overall service.
The minister referred to the 2020 Cabinet sub-committee report on the operations of WASA which identified “top-heavy” managers and the eight levels of “management command” as part of the counterproductive operating system at the utility. This included eight executive managing directors, 19 executive management heads, 32 senior managers, 88 departmental managers, 25 assistant managers, 35 section managers, 23 unit managers and 196 supervisors.
In 1999, Cabinet approved four levels of managerial staff consisting of 172 employees and an organisational structure of 1,723 staff members. However, WASA currently has on its payroll 4,828 employees consisting of 3,043 monthly paid and 1,785 daily paid workers. This includes employees with the designation of manager who supervised “no one” or “just one or two staff members” under their control, Gonzales said.
He gave as an example former Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke who holds the position of Assistant Manager, Employee Resourcing, although he does not manage anyone at WASA.
Gonzales said the monthly salaries of some managers ranged between $20,000 and $40,000 and the total wage bill for WASA’s 426 managers totals $5 million.
“With a restructured and re-organised executive structure certainly we would not be spending that kind of money in salaries and allowances,” said the minister as he outlined plans to reduce WASA’s annual budget by 25 per cent and increase revenue to $1 billion by 2023.
Gonzales said the board chaired by Ravi Nanga has been “taking disciplinary action against managers.” He warned that if the board fails to intervene in WASA’s day-to-day operations “all hell will break loose.”
“If you believe the water supply is bad in the country, trust me, it would be ten times worst and that is because we do not have proper management in place.”
To ensure the utility is run efficiently and does not get caught up in red tape, WASA will hire five regional managers to improve water delivery and distribution, said Gonzales who further explained: “When you put a regional manager who now has the autonomy to make decisions and you hold that manager accountable for ensuring that people get water, that simple organisation of management will inevitably have an impact on the supply of water in a community.”
The regional managers will report to acting CEO Kelvin Romain and their contracts will be performance-based.
After getting the all-clear from Cabinet for the transformation plan, WASA’s board met on Friday and immediately established an “office of transformation” comprising external consultants and WASA employees who will report directly to the board.
Admitting that the transformation exercise will be a difficult and painful experience for some workers, Gonzales said: “I don’t take comfort in this. This is going to be very traumatic for anyone who is going to be negatively impacted by this transformation but I have been given a bitter chalice. In that bitter chalice, I have to make decisions that are not in the interest of a narrow few but will benefit the country at large.”
He said he knows he will have to make tough decisions “that may not be politically attractive” but he is convinced that “this is not a job for the faint of heart.”
PSA president Leroy Baptiste has warned that a lot of jobs to be cut during WASA’s transformation exercise and is predicting that the utility will end up like Petrotrin. However, Gonzales said Government had restructured Petrotrin which was losing billions of dollars and turned it into a profit-making entity through Heritage.
“If he (Baptiste) is comparing WASA’s restructuring to that of Petrotrin, then I say as minister, Hallelujah,” he said.
Gonzales said in 2011 WASA had sourced a $397 million loan from the IDB to downsize its staff. However, several of the workers who accepted VSEP packages were rehired, bringing the workforce to 5,285.
“Up to this day, WASA is still repaying for that IDB loan,” he said.
For the transformation exercise, Government will get funding from the IDB and CAF and in three weeks Gonzales will seek Cabinet approval for a capital investment programme for water supply improvements across the country. The first phase of the programme will target communities receiving water less than three days a week.
“I look forward to Cabinet approving that programme. It is being finalised as we speak. It will also move the authority close to being prepared for a rate review because it would meet all the Regulated Industries Commission’s standards as it relates to customer service,” he said.