Public Utilities minister Marvin Gonzales.

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has expended hundreds of millions of dollars in road paving contracts that have rivalled the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) paving bills, resulting in huge kickbacks for friends and family of WASA employees.

The matter is now engaging the attention of Public Utilties Minister Marvin Gonzales who admitted WASA awarded contracts to every Tom, Dick and Harry who have no road paving expertise, resulting in shoddy and sub-standard work on the country’s road network.

“Yes, that is a fact because WASA often times employ contractors who do not have the requisite competence or skills to do proper road patching,” Gonzales told Guardian Media yesterday.

“Good managers would not allow these things to happen. People don’t understand the extent to which we are changing things at management. It’s not about fixing problems…it is about getting money…kickbacks for friends and family of WASA employees.”

WASA would retain contractors to patch and repave roads after repairing a leaking or ruptured pipeline.

“A lot of them (contractors) do not have a proven track record in road paving. That is not their forte.”

Gonzales said WASA is not supposed to do road patching works, which is the responsibility of the MOWT.

Having worked at the MOWT as Head of Legal, Gonzales said he disagreed that WASA is responsible for repairing roads after it is dug up.

“That is a flawed assessment. The reality in Trinidad and Tobago is that we do not have utility corridors at the side of the road where you put your water, electricity and telephone lines.”

He said the nature of the water business would result in disruptions of pipelines from time to time.

“If we are serious about not experiencing that… then we have to look seriously at the construction of the utility corridors where electricity, water and telephone lines are installed under the road’s surface. Fine, I know that is going to take a lot of money. What do you do in the circumstances?”

“The money that the Government is giving to WASA we expect it to be spent on ensuring that the people of this country get a better water supply… not to hire contractors to pave the roads. That is ridiculous. WASA’s money is being mismanaged. The country is not getting value for money in the water sector.”

In going forward, Gonzales said WASA has to change its model.

Not long ago, Gonzales said, “I saw a bill where WASA was almost rivalling the Ministry of Works and Transport in terms of road paving. That is crazy! Why is WASA spending hundreds of millions of dollars in road paving? That is alarming to me.”

“You cannot have WASA expending large sums of money on road maintenance. That has happened for too long in the past.”

In his view, Gonzales said WASA and the MOWT should agree on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would allow the MOWT the leeway to repave roads after WASA excavates it.

“I don’ think this is difficult.”

For this to be done, Gonzales said, both WASA and MOWT must have a collaborative relationship.

“There must be better synchronisation and that has been the international model. I have spoken to other countries in the Commonwealth that have similar challenges and the model has been the Government agency that has the skills to fix the roads would do so.”

He said these matters must be addressed.

“Some of the problems we have in this country is that too many of our Government agencies like to operate in silos. What we need is a government approach in dealing with the national problems in the country.”

In going forward, Gonzales said proper mechanism must be put in place.

He said, soon WASA would invest in technology and machinery to do its own road repairs.