by Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie
There may be ongoing controversy about WASA, but something has to be done.
In one phase of my varied life as a learner, I was an organisational change and development consultant. Before I did anything in an organisation, I tried to get to know it, make an assessment of what is its raison d’etre and what it is doing right to achieve that and what it is doing wrong that prevents it from doing and being, what it was meant to do and be. Only then would I begin.
I have not had the benefit of an assessment, and, I am looking at WASA from the outside as anyone else. But if WASA is a company that is not meeting its mandate, then it requires intervention. But it is not just about cost and human resource effectiveness, as real as these might be.
What would a transformed WASA do that it is not doing or unable to do now? WASA’s reason for being is to supply water for all purposes in T&T. It is a State monopoly. Every home in need of potable water and every industry in need of water, indeed every building, site or facility that needs water, is a WASA customer.
As new homes are built, as new housing developments spring up, as new businesses are established, as new industries and industrial sites spring up, its base of customers grows. A monopoly with a growing customer base has all the requirements for a lucrative, profitable business. Indeed, growth and prosperity are WASA’s friends.
WASA has a customer base in which it is the monopoly supplier. The fact that the State owns it is irrelevant. As a monopoly with a captive customer base, it has all the ingredients for success. So, if it is a failure, there are reasons. Structure, system and management issues.
Does WASA supply in a reasonable way all who have WASA connections? The answer to that is no. Are all customers up to date in their payments and does WASA have a system which effectively monitors and follows up on this, so that its receivables are not later than, let’s say, 60 days? If there are receivables with delinquent customers for more than 60 days, does it have an aggressive action plan to address this, especially with industrial or business or state entities? A business has to be managed.
If there are delinquent customers, homeowners who are not getting an adequate supply, say less than three days per week, or with unpredictable long delays between inadequate, sporadic supply times, how is WASA rationally addressing this? It is not reasonable to ask citizen homeowners to pay for water that they do not receive. These are customer delivery and service issues.
The problems, as identified in the paragraph above, can only be some combination of water capture, storage, supply, distribution and the effective management and monitoring of these. The water capture issue is a function of rainfall (climate change promises plenty), known and available underground sources, smart management of flooding and water courses, desalination and so on. We should be able to figure out how many gallons we need for 450,000 households and 25,000-plus businesses, and address the sources of supply for a smarter storage system that structures a mixture of centralised and decentralised storage. Infrastructure and strategy issues.
There are about 600 communities in T&T. There are also 14 regions in Trinidad and collaboration between WASA and regional corporations could prove desirable. How can this help WASA to plan better?
The distribution issue has to do with leakage, ineffective monitoring and timely fixing of leaks, unresponsiveness to trouble calls and reports, wastage, replacement of worn or fragile piping, and laying new pipes or replacing with larger pipes to ensure distribution to every home or institution in every community now underserved. In hillier communities, either booster pumps or higher storage systems might be needed. Once a functional, working system is established it must be effectively managed and monitored with standards of responsiveness to problems. I believe that T&TEC has been able to achieve this through a system of trouble calls.
The raison d’etre of WASA is to provide a reliable, predictable water supply to every one of its customers at a fair price (something that requires discussion) and to effectively deal with any problems that may arise in terms of water needs.
The key thing for WASA, therefore, is to structure an organisation that will meet the requirements for WASA’s reason for being. That means working from customer service and satisfaction, backwards into the organisation (from the outside in, not from inside outwards) and restructuring it for customer delivery and service with smart technology and real-time round-the-clock communication support. That marriage between technology and competence will address cost-effectiveness and efficiency and, properly done, can lead to a successful WASA. Supply, storage, demand, operations, reliability issues.
The inevitable human fallout is a serious matter which must be humanely dealt with and retained employees must be trained for the new WASA and other employees must be trained for transition.
But after 60 years of Independence, we can’t continue to have recurring water problems every day in some community or other.