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This photo, supplied by WASA, shows its workers at a location in Chaguanas during part of Wednesday’s disconnection drive.

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has announced that it has begun debt recovery action against customers who have neither paid their outstanding arrears nor contacted WASA for an agreement to do so.

In a statement yesterday, WASA said these debt recovery actions started on Wednesday with the disconnection of several customers in Barataria, San Juan and Chaguanas, after numerous attempts to encourage those customers to pay, or make an agreement to pay, proved futile.

“The authority will be continuing similar actions in other areas throughout Trinidad and Tobago, towards collection of outstanding rates under the Water and Sewerage Act, under which the authority can implement several punitive actions to recover payments including disconnection of service and sale of property,” WASA said in its statement.

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said WASA is pursuing initiatives to improve the financial standing of the company and recover outstanding debts owed by customers.

“I spoke with the executive director and I was advised that the customers who got disconnected have been owing WASA for over three and four years, and their arrears are in the thousands,” Gonzales said yesterday.

Gonzales said some of those disconnected had been in arrears for “over five years and had refused to pay since then despite several requests.”

WASA currently has a $10 billion debt.

However, Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein has called for the current exercise to be halted.

“I ask that the management of WASA show some level of compassion and understanding for the present prevailing conditions that citizens of this country now face, particularly the constituents of Barataria/San Juan. We are in our third lockdown since March 2020, with this being the deadliest and most infectious wave of COVID-19 infections. This is further underscored by the heavy restrictive measures which left many jobless and cashless, effective from April 2021,” Hosein said.

He said WASA should not engage in “intimidation tactics” but rather show “a level of humanity in this crisis, as many citizens have no money to purchase food or other basic necessities.”

“While I understand the difficult financial position WASA currently faces, it will not place WASA at a deleterious position to hold its hand on disconnection of residents within my constituency,” he said.

Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally has also written Gonzales on the issue.

“While everyone understands and appreciates that any state enterprise would need to be financially able to meet its mandate, WASA is arguably different as it deals with water, which is most necessary for life and livelihood,” he said.

He added: “It is unfortunate that WASA has embarked on such a course of action in the midst of a pandemic when people are seeking rent relief and moratoriums on loans. Some have even lost their jobs and are depending on the goodwill of charitable persons to feed their family on a daily basis.”

He asked Gonzales to revisit the decision and/or instruct WASA’s management that now is not the time to embark upon such a debt recovery drive. — with reporting by Anna-Lisa Paul