It has come to my attention that the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) yesterday, September 02, 2023 published a news release bearing the caption, “WASA ADDRESSES SUPPLY ISSUES TO PARTS OF SOUTH’, in which the Authority has made spurious and unsubstantiated accusations against myself (see attached). One newspaper, reporting on WASA ‘s allegations, was headlined “WASA accuses MP of trying to incite residents ahead of scheduled meeting”. (https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/wasa-accuses-mp-of-trying-to-incite-residents-ahead-of-scheduled-meeting-6.2.1791097.b17ef76125)
This follows WASA’s last minute cancellation of a public meeting on Friday (01/09/23) which, as the Member of Parliament for Oropouche West, I facilitated so that WASA would be able to inform residents of San Francique and environs of their plans to ease the deplorable water supply that has plagued the people of South Trinidad for several years now. Persons attending would have also had an opportunity to let WASA know first hand, the extent to which they have been affected, since WASA has not of their own accord, initiated or engaged these residents whom they are mandated to serve.
According to the officials of WASA, the meeting was cancelled because they saw my invitation to affected residents to attend the meeting “…accompanied by hostile commentary inciting members of the public to act in a particular manner.“
Several things are wrong here.
Firstly, the language of WASA’s release is suggestive of irresponsible conduct on my part. That is a completely reckless and intentional lie on the part of WASA’s officials who chose to hide behind the anonymity of a letterhead to cast their aspersions.
For the record, my invitation (see attached) welcomed persons to, “Voice your concerns to WASA” and “Learn of WASA’s plans for your area”. How is this “inciting the public”? Further,
what is the “particular manner “ of behaviour that WASA believes would have resulted, by my invitation to citizens to simply voice their concerns?
In its attempt to portray this Member of Parliament’s fulfilment of my constitutional duty as reckless and perhaps illegal, and to distract from the very real water crisis facing vast sections of Trinidad, WASA’s officials were deliberate, by their language, in choosing to malign, misinform and mislead.
Secondly, why would the Minister and Board of Directors of WASA feel threatened by citizens expressing their views about the water crisis facing them? Those in charge at WASA must know that affected residents, who are actually WASA’s shareholders and primary clients, voicing their opinions and concerns, are in fact exercising their democratic and constitutionally protected right.
Moreover, there is no secret about the public concerns of affected residents. Days before in a press conference, I raised the issue that thousands of citizens had been without water for as much as 31 days and counting. There have been multiple newspaper and social media reports of water shortages and disregarded water schedules by WASA.
Throughout the country, citizens have publicly complained about not having water to wash, bathe, cook or even to drink. There are media reports of farmers complaining about the effect of lack of water on agricultural production. The health and lives of persons who are financially unable to pay private contractors for water, are being put at risk.
But contrary to the WASA releases, this water crisis didn’t happen recently. Over the last 8 years, citizens across our nation have complained of a worsening water crisis which the Government continues to ignore. Under this administration, citizens are being forced to go back to the 1960’s, begging for a truck borne supply, using water from unsanitary wells and rivers, trapping rain water in barrels or walking miles with buckets to find water to meet their needs. Unable to explain its expenditure of over $420 billion of tax payers dollars with nothing to show for it, there appears to be a deliberate attempt by Government and State Agencies to suffocate the voices of the people.
Thirdly, it is ironic and hypocritical in the circumstances that WASA cancelled the meeting with stakeholders, refusing the opportunity for public engagement, but ended its release with a commitment to “maintaining open communication with our customers, Parliamentary and Local Government Representatives in the area…” When given the exact opportunity to do this, WASA instead chose to snob these very stakeholders. The actions of WASA in this instance are in obvious direct contradiction of these lyrics.
Finally, in none of the press releases issued by WASA has a single indication been provided regarding the plans by WASA to provide a permanent or long term solution to this longstanding and critical water shortage. Instead, WASA offered yet another proposed 1-week scheduled supply for a few affected areas. WASA’s release makes no mention of the rest of the communities affected and offers no hope that a solution is being pursued. In the absence of information to the contrary, citizens can expect continued water shortages for extended periods.
This arrogant and dismissive response to public concerns by WASA’s Board of Directors overseen by the PNM Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales is completely unacceptable. It is a shame that in the 21st century this government insists that citizens must beg for a reliable pipe-borne water supply. It is untenable that authorities refuse to engage residents, refuse to hear their views and refuse even the opportunity to provide explanations or describe plans to provide solutions to the crisis.
I challenge those WASA officials including WASA’s Board of Directors who have chosen to engage in political games via these childish press releases to stop hiding behind letterheads. The population of Trinidad and Tobago deserve answers not excuses. The people need water, not water politics.