Monday, January 22, 2018

Target bad-pay biggies

WITH the Government’s economic back against the proverbial wall, Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte is rightly targeting the massive pool of $500 million in unpaid water rates in his hunt for income outside of the dry national Treasury.

In doing so, his top priority should be those large commercial users who have been claiming a substantial portion of the national resources without paying their bills.

Clearly, the $500 million in overdue accounts payable could not have been racked up over the seven weeks since Mr Le Hunte returned from Africa to take up the Public Utilities portfolio. How then did it came to pass that half a billion dollars’ worth of unpaid bills remained on the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) books, without any signs of discomfort observable from the voices or actions of WASA managers and previous ministers who held the WASA portfolio?

This question remained unanswered after WASA chairman Romney Thomas and Mr Le Hunte took the opportunity to free-associate with the public and those attending the formal switch-on of the Mc Kai Lands booster station on Lady Young Road.

This water supply boost serves just about 400-area residents who had never before enjoyed such service and who must have contributed only negligibly to the $500 million worth of unpaid bills.  The bad-pay biggies must be well known to the WASA accounting people.

What remains unknown are the steps taken, if any, toward recovery of the funds needed by a utility forced to ignore leaks of endless gallons of water all over the country, compounding its failure to supply the pipelines of more than 38 per cent of households with 24-seven reliability.

“Water For All”, headline of an appealing goal by a former UNC administration, remains ever more elusive at a time when WASA, too, must suffer the Treasury cutbacks across the board for State entities.  But why look only to the Treasury?

Money remains out there to be collected, presumably from households and entities on the bad-pay list, about which Mr Thomas is voicing what, in litigious T&T, must be far-fetched threats to put offenders’ properties up for sale!
An explicable institutional hesitancy is shown in the WASA chairman’s almost apologetic statement, “We don’t want to be draconian”.

Maybe WASA could start by naming and shaming the biggest among those stiffing the utility. Certainly, there are no confidentiality clauses to prevent it from doing so.
Despite its many promises to put itself on a more institutional sound and accountable basis, WASA is yet to lift itself out of its old reputation as a unreliable, heavily-dependent State agency.

It is a pity that the country as a whole fails to take on the tough challenges when it has money to do so.  Now that income is down to a trickle, it has no choice.  

In adopting a more aggressive and responsible position, WASA should consider a package of measures including a major crackdown on large debtors, an amnesty and regularisation of illegal connections, and a national consumer campaign aimed at educating the public and improving the authority’s interface with its customers.