Cabinet has not accepted a recommendation to wind up the heavily indebted Water and Sewage Authority (WASA), and there is no decision yet to cut staff. However, according to Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales, drastic measures will be taken to deal with that “unwieldy, overstaffed, unproductive and unresponsive" entity.
Those words used to describe WASA in a Cabinet sub-committee report, paint an unflattering picture of the water company which had long outlived its usefulness by the time Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley called for a review of its operations late last year. There is no denying that it is an entity in urgent need of drastic interventions.
The monumental task of fixing WASA involves, at the very least, increasing water production and storage; repairing aged pipeline and distribution infrastructure; and collecting outstanding debts from residential and commercial customers.
But that is just the beginning. So much more is wrong with the public utility that the measures currently being ruled out by the Cabinet might not be avoidable in the long term.
In particular, the issue of corruption, whether real or perceived, presents a challenge for which the best remedy is swift and decisive action. There is no way to dodge some very unpopular decisions, very likely of the kind that will incur the wrath of the unions representing WASA workers.
But for now, the tough action is starting from the top. Yesterday, acting on some of the “independent, legal and HR advice” contained in the report, Minister Gonzales announced a shake-up of WASA’s management structure. Among the immediate actions was the installation of Dr Lennox Sealy as Executive Director with a mandate linked to a performance-based contract.
Dr Sealy, a consultant specializing in organizational transformation and development, has been involved in major transformation exercises for governments across the region. He was appointed in December to head WASA’s new board of directors, just around the time that the Cabinet sub-committee was scrutinising the utility’s operations.
There was a hint of the weightier responsibilities he might be taking on in the release announcing the new board which stated that the new directors would “provide strategic direction to transform the authority into a high-quality performance water and wastewater company, with a focus on best practice, good corporate governance, transparency and accountability.”
For Alan Poon King, who had been acting as CEO since December 2018, these changes mean that he reverts to his position as Director of Customer Care.
According to Minister Gonzales, getting the management of WASA right is a top priority. Water provision from WASA is a management problem, he said.
Expect more tough decisions, in the coming days and weeks and more revelations when the subcommittee's 135-page report is laid in Parliament on Friday.
For now, any concern that WASA would suffer the same fate as Petrotrin and be completely shut down have eased. But that is only because the type of bitter pill that will have to be swallowed to treat all that ails the utility is still to be revealed.