Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales and the WASA board have some explaining to do even after the authority yesterday pulled the plug on its ill-timed disconnection drive.
Yesterday, scores of people showed up at WASA’s customer service centres nationwide in a bid to avert a possible disruption of their water supply.
According to WASA, some 30,000 customers have been in arrears and collectively owed some $52 million long before the COVID-19 pandemic began and have made little effort to pay their outstanding debts.
WASA further explained that many customers have disregarded efforts to organise a payment plan and have shown no interest in reducing their arrears.
As such, the move by the authority to collect its arrears is more than expected and its patience over the years must be commended.
However, to embark on both a disconnection and collections drive in the middle of the country’s third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is not only badly timed but ill-conceived and downright insensitive.
The authority and its line-Minister, who only on Thursday said while he had no part in the decision, defended it, chiding the Opposition for raising concerns about the exercise – must have considered the eyebrows it would have raised. This is because there thousands of citizens unable to earn an income, with many now waiting on the Ministries of Finance and Social Development to provide financial assistance as they struggle to pay their bills.
Surely, WASA and its line-Minister would also have paid close attention to the typical Trini culture and the possibility that delinquent customers may have opted to rush last-minute to customer service centres to pay their arrears, thereby creating long lines and risking congregating – something the country cannot afford at this juncture.
Perhaps they would have thought carefully about how citizens would perceive the authority for coming after money and showing no regard for its customers who may have been struck by COVID or lost a loved one to the virus.
Despite the move by Minister Gonzalves to meet with the WASA board and instruct it to halt the disconnection drive yesterday, therefore, the reason for such a decision by a State agency at this time needs to be explained.
The Government, through its various ministries, has been at pains to find ways to cushion the financial blow the restrictions, along with the State of Emergency, has had on citizens.
Only this week, the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert announced the Salary Relief Grant would be extended to June and those who were unable to apply for the May tranche would be allowed to do so for both months. Minister Imbert also revealed workers from the construction sector, which was ordered closed, would be assisted.
Therefore, it is in very poor taste and almost a complete contradiction to the stance taken by the Prime Minister and Government to help ease the burden, that WASA would think it appropriate to embark on such an exercise now.
There is indeed a time for everything and now is not the time for insensitivity and disruptions.