Gonzales dismisses UNC’s WASA mass-retrenchment claims

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales – File photo

PUBLIC Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales on Sunday dismissed reiterated claims from Opposition Senator Wade Mark and Princes Town MP Barry Padarath of imminent mass retrenchment of workers at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

During a visit to a well site in St Joseph on March 23, Gonzales said the restructuring process at WASA was well under way.

“The executive leadership package, it will first target 426 managers of the authority and we are seeking to reduce that by about 50 or 40 per cent.”

Gonzales said the Cabinet’s human resource advisory committee was reviewing a compensation package for the new executive leadership at WASA. He added that once that was approved, an announcement would be made.

On Sunday, at a news conference at the UNC’s headquarters in Chaguanas, Mark claimed the removal of those managers was the tip of a mass retrenchment exercise planned for WASA. He alleged the UNC had information that WASA planned to retrench 2,000 to 2,500 of its 5,000 employees. Mark did not provide any documentary evidence to support that claim.

In a statement, Padarath supported Mark’s position. He reiterated that for months, he had been claiming since last October there would be many layoffs at WASA. Padarath claimed that a voluntary separation of employment programme (VSEP) had started and “will soon trickle down to thousands of employees putting them on the breadline.” He also claimed that statements made by Gonzales about a desalination plant being built in Moruga was electioneering by the PNM.

In dismissing Mark and Padarath’s claims, Gonzales challenged them to answer certain questions he had for them.

“Why did the UNC discontinue the operation of a package plant in the Moruga area during their tenure? Was it because it was controlled then by the PNM?

“Why did the UNC not pursue the plans for package water treatment plants for Mayaro, Granville and some other rural communities when they assumed office in 2010 when the tender process was well under way for the construction of these plants?

“Why did the UNC engage in a $500 million VSEP (plan) to separate 1,000 workers from the authority after telling the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) that they were planning to separate 2,500 workers?”

Gonzales also asked the UNC to say whether the failed Beetham wastewater treatment plant which was never completed under the former UNC-led People’s Partnership (PP) government continued to pose any economic risk to TT, and whether the PP paid a communications consultant to “claim that they provided 70 per cent of the country with 24/7 water supply when there was no evidence to support this.”

He advised Mark and Padarath that if they could not answer those questions, “they should not engage in political hypocrisy.”