Shaliza Hassanali and Anna-Lisa Paul
One day after it was publicly revealed that a company owned by his wife had been receiving contracts to provide pipe laying and repair services to the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke has accused former and current politicians of using WASA for their gains.
During a media briefing at the associations’s head office in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Duke said WASA has been starved of much needed resources in the past as part of the culture of political patronage that pervades the organisation.
He claimed, “Every politician that has WASA has used WASA as a football.”
Alluding to the nepotism that exists at WASA, Duke claimed, “The Mayor of Arima has a daughter working at WASA.”
He charged that was “political patronage” where a State office “is being used to employ political sycophants as a way to pay them back.”
In the 135-page report by the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to review the operations of WASA, it was stated that political patronage was one of the factors that had led to the WASA’s downfall.
Duke also claimed to have information that there were many companies operating inside of WASA that are connected to current politicians, some of whom, “are paid on a monthly basis…millions, and they don’t owe them, they pay them very quickly and in its’ entirety.”
On Saturday, Duke claimed his wife’s company Blackstone Engineering Technologies Ltd, was owed money by WASA, and that they had not received any contracts during the past six years.
Vowing the war was on now as he intended to “dish out” the likes of what was being directed to them, Duke trained his guns on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he said, “We want to ask the Prime Minister whether his wife is a very good lawyer…if she is connected to any firm at all that does work for WASA?”
He also singled out National Security Minister Stuart Young to answer if he, “has a brother that has and carries out contracts in WASA?”
Duke said these burning questions needed to be answered.
Saying he was no longer working at WASA and had not drawn a salary from them in the last 12 years, Duke said, “I am on no pay leave.”
Indicating he was not on any Tenders Board or any other committees in WASA, Duke warned, “All that glitters is not gold. I have files and I will drop it like it’s hot when I am ready.”
Referring to Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales as “Speedy Gonzales” – Duke urged him to seek consensus on WASA and avoid confrontation.
However, he said the union was not afraid as, “If you want to go to war, we welcome it and we will take you on.”
Duke again reiterated that past and present administrations were to be blamed for the position WASA was in now.
Dropping some of the bombshells he had hinted at earlier, Duke sought answers as he said, “Under this PNM, they have employed several people in top management positions. One of them goes by the name Arlene.”
He went on, “Alyuh must ask Gonzales who is Arlene. What is her claim to fame?”
Duke questioned, “Is her family PNM? Or is she PNM? We want to find out.”
Calling another person by the name of Andrews – he also demanded similar answers as he alleged, “It is a job for the girls.”
The PSA head also identified a third female employed currently employed in WASA’s Industrial Relations Department.
Duke issued a cryptic warning as he said, “Gonzales, be careful of this war. I am not going to allow you, nor Imbert, nor Rowley to attack the workers of WASA without a struggle and you have not seen any yet.”
Advising people that the call to stay home today was still on the cards, he said no amount of threats could deter persons from taking a day to rest, reflect and reset before they resume the struggle tomorrow.
Responding to Duke’s claims, Gonzales said, “I heard it (Duke) but it’s all wild allegations. What are the names of the companies?
Minister: Duke playing games
Gonzales said Duke was only playing games.
“He is very scared. He got plenty body blows yesterday,” Gonzales said, referring to the Sunday Guardian’s front page article headlined “WASA Owes Duke’s Wife $$” in which Duke admitted that his wife Kimberly and others owned Blackstone Engineering Technologies Ltd which was awarded contracts by WASA in the past.
At a press conference on Saturday, Duke claimed his wife’s company was owed money by WASA but refused to reveal the outstanding amount.
The company which was formed in 2005/2006 was contracted to repair and install pipelines.
Duke’s admission came one week after a Cabinet sub committee’s report into the operations of WASA claimed trade unions representing employees were engaged in the supply of goods and services to the organisation, which Gonzales stated was a conflict of interest.
The minister added, “Duke is now trying to create distractions from his self-inflicted wounds caused by serious conflict of interest as an employee of WASA with a family owned business and union leader purporting to represent WASA workers.”
Gonzales said the country now knows that Duke is “really seeking his own interest by riding the backs of workers. He now stands exposed and has become desperate and reckless and will continue his wild hominem attacks.”
“I feel sorry for him. Duke continues to make a fool of himself and is a national disgrace. He is definitely trying to remove the spotlight on his own conduct because WASA workers are now seeing him for what he really is.”