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Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales, answers questions posed during day two of the Standing Finance Committee.

PETER CHRISTOPHER

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Despite a reduced allocation of funds, there are no plans to cut staff at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales faced questions from Caroni Central MP Arnold Ram about the management of salaries and wage negotiations at WASA, while reviewing the allocations for the facility in the Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee yesterday.

“We have noted the decrease of almost 50 per cent when the headcount will remain the same and my question to the minister does this amount cater for any new negotiations with the bargaining Unit at WASA,” asked Ram.

Gonzalez explained that he was part of a Cabinet committee meant to review the operations at WASA, and submit a report to the prime minister by the end of November. He said at this time there was no issue of reducing staff.

“We intend to hold fast to this deadline date and the purpose of the committee is to make recommendations to the prime minister and the Cabinet with respect to making a more efficient organisation one that holds fast who aspires to the principles of transparency and accountability as well as to look at the structure of the organisation to make the organisation an efficient and efficiently run organisation,” he said.

“That does not suggest in any way that the estimates for 2021 it’s an intention on the part of the government to reduce staff.”

“We are nowhere close to being in that position and if there is a need for us to return to this Parliament to get additional funding we will do so,” he added.

However, Ram challenged this given the overall reduced allocation for the facility.

“Is it not financially prudent us to budget the amount that was actually spent in the last fiscal year,” he asked.

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert then explained that the overall reduction was due to the Government’s decision not to subsidize the utility further.

“We cannot afford to subsidize WASA to the extent it has been subsidised,” said Imbert.

“Whether it will be as I indicated in the budget statement; whether it will be by way of adjustment in water rates or improvements in efficiency at the entity or combination of the two to one way or the other, you have to reduce the annual subvention to WASA because the country cannot afford it so there’s no point putting $2 billion inside of it.”

Last week both Minister Imbert and Minister Gonzales suggested that water rates could be adjusted, as currently they were of the cheapest in the world.

Gonzales, in his contribution to the debate last week noted that WASA was owed over $700 million from customers while also owing over $1 billion in debt to contractors.