“A scandal of the highest order.”
This is how Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales yesterday described the payment of over $1.1 million in overtime to six officials of the Public Services Association (PSA) employed at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) during a three-year period. One of the PSA officials alone received over half a million dollars of this figure.
Outraged over the wanton spending, financial irregularities, mismanagement and corrupt activities at the cash-strapped authority in the past, the angry minister has promised to make the perpetrators accountable.
During an interview with Guardian Media, Gonzales said, “It’s a scandalous state of affairs and a breach of the public’s trust by those entrusted with the solemn duty to manage the authority.”
This as investigations continue into the operations of WASA and allegations of misconduct by former human resources director Ken Mahabir raised in a 2016 audit by WASA’s Legal Department.
According to the audit, which was obtained by Guardian Media, $1,142,609.15 was paid to six union officials in excessive commuted overtime (COT) during January 2013 to July 2016.
The payouts would have taken place during Mahabir’s tenure. He served as director from June 28, 2011 before returning to the authority on contract from January 1, 2015. Following the 74-page audit, he was suspended on June 16, 2016 and later fired on March 8, 2017.
Audit documents revealed the highest paid of the six PSA officials received $504,589.52 in total excessive COT during a 43-month period.
The report showed the six PSA union officials were paid a total of $947,307.03 in excessive COT, with a further $195,302.12 being paid in excessive COT after the approved period.
A breakdown revealed the highest paid PSA executive received $17,795.08 per month in excessive COT, when he should have received $5,931.69 per month. He was paid $11,863.39 per month in excessive COT during the period January 2013 to June 2016.
The second executive member received a total of $97,938.42 in excessive COT between July 2014 to July 2016 during a 25-month period. That member also allegedly received payments for 12 months in excess of the agreed period. The breakdown showed the worker received $3,860.91 per month, when she should have not received any COT.
Another worker collected a total of $95,799.37 in excessive COT payments during November 2014 to June 2016 during a 20-month period and for eight months in excess of the agreed period. He received $9,469.47 per month, when he should have received $4,734.74 per month. He was paid an excess of $4,734.73 in COT between November 2014 to June 2016.
Yet another worker received $86,121.16 in excessive COT payments during November 2014 to June 2016 during a 20-month period and for eight months in excess of the agreed period. A breakdown revealed he received $8,512.79 per month in COT payments, when he should have got $4,256.39 per month. He was paid an excess of $4,256.40 per month during the period November 2014 to June 2016.
Two remaining PSA executive members received $81,430.55 and $81,428.01 respectively in excessive COT payments from July 2014 and continuing up to July 2016 during a 25-month period. The two each received monies for 12 months in excess of the agreed period.
A breakdown showed one of them received $3,210.14 per month, when she should not have received any COT payments. She was paid an excess of $3,210.14 for the period July 2014 to July 2016. The audit revealed the other worker received $3,210.04 per month, when she too should not have received any COT payments. She was also paid an excess of $3,210.04 for the period July 2014 to July 2016.
PSA is one of three unions that represents daily-paid and monthly rated workers at WASA. The other two are the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) and the Estate Police Association (EPA).
Although it was claimed NUGFW representatives had received COT payments, no break-downs were included among the audit documents.
The report found that Mahabir authorised the payment of overtime forgone by the union officials of the NUGFW’s WASA section from January 2011 to December 2014 without seeking approval from the board and Human Resource Committee. These payments amounted to $726,718.
The audit stated that there was no documentation to support suggestions that Mahabir had performed due diligence checks to ensure the accuracy and legitimacy of the requested amount to be remitted to these officials.
It further found that Mahabir authorised payments of overtime foregone and institutional strengthening allowances to executive members of the NUGFW WASA Section, totalling $1,426,718, without seeking approvals from the CEO, board and Human Resource Committee.
On Monday, NUGFW president James Lambert said workers did not give themselves overtime and as such, they had nothing to answer for and it was the management which should account.
Yesterday, Gonzales challenged the PSA to say if it is, “willing to repay the monies paid to some of its officers to allow the purchase of PPE uniforms for workers to do their jobs effectively or to allow WASA to buy materials to repair broken pipelines so that our citizens can get water in their taps?”