WASA workers fix a leak on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, in January.

Anna-Lisa Paul

One month after it was revealed that the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) had paid a whopping $468.3 million in overtime during 2016 to 2020, some of which was not actually earned by those who received the payments, an internal memo has been issued to managers that from today (April 1), a Commuted Overtime Log Form must be completed and submitted electronically on a monthly basis in order for the continuation of this payment.

In the memo dated March 24, acting Human Resources Director May Ann Diaz advised, “The current financial situation requires that greater emphasis be placed on reducing our monthly expenditure. Currently, there are two areas which continue to remain areas of grave concern, specifically overtime-as-worked and commuted overtime.”

The Human Resources Division had previously issued memoranda on two separate occasions back in December 2017 and May 2020, reinforcing the policy that “all employees who are in receipt of Commuted Overtime Allowance (COT) must account for the work executed beyond the normal workday using the Commuted Overtime Log Form.”

The move comes after a series of Guardian Media exposes highlighting the financial drain overtime payments and other poor practices were creating for the utility and which was detailed in an audit report dating back to 2016.

Last month, Guardian Media published the contents of a 2016 audit report, compiled by WASA’s Legal Department, which found that some $1,142,609.15 in excessive commuted overtime (COT) was paid to six workers who were officials of the Public Services Association (PSA) during the period January 2013 to July 2016.

Regarding the authority’s continuing high overtime costs, Diaz stressed in the memo that all employees receiving commuted overtime must account for the work done.

“This is to ensure that there is empirical data to support the continued payment of the allowance, that it is economically prudent to do so, and that it is a worthwhile investment considering the criticality of the services provided by persons who are in receipt of COT Allowance,” Diaz wrote.

The log form is designed to capture details of overtime hours worked and the duties performed during these hours. They are to be submitted by the third working day of each month electronically and as Diaz indicated, this measure is intended to manage WASA’s overtime expenditure downwards.

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has previously referred to the exorbitant overtime bill at WASA and some of the questionable means by which it is being logged and paid out as, “a scandalous and shameful state of affairs.”

A Cabinet sub-committee appointed to review the operations of WASA, chaired by Gonzales, last month submitted a report to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on how the cash-strapped WASA could be transformed. Details of the overtime payment scenario are revealed in the report.

The report stated that in 2016, WASA commenced several cost-cutting initiatives which resulted in a savings of $64.7 million by the end of September 2019. Among the initiatives undertaken was a reduction in bulk purchases; overtime from the implementation of a shift system and the rotation of supervisors; use of technology; limiting travel; and re-negotiation of lease arrangements for vehicles and property.

However, the committee had pointed out that “one major area in which management controls are urgently required is the area of overtime and that overtime-related costs contribute to the authority’s inability to fulfil its financial obligations on a monthly basis.”

In May 2016, the internal WASA audit report revealed that an overtime management committee was formed and its mandate was to analyse the historic data of overtime levels and reduce costs.

The overtime committee agreed that for the year 2017, “the overtime for monthly paid staff (commuted) would be $25,471,365 while the overtime for daily-rated staff would be in the vicinity of $20,069,934.”

However, their report noted that this figure was not eventually achieved.

“The actual figure for year 2017 as recorded presented a significantly different outturn than what was proposed, with overtime for daily paid employees reaching $39.2 million and commuted overtime recording a high of $51 million.”

The report further revealed that “in both cases, the actual payment was approximately 100 per cent more than projected.”

Between 2016 and 2020, the report showed that WASA “expended $207,469,234 in overtime for its daily paid employees and $260,928,512 (commuted) for its monthly paid staff, for a total of $468,397,746 million or an overage of approximately $94 million annually.”

WASA has 4,828 employees but this does not include the 47 members of the executive management team or the 80 staff related to various programmes and projects.