“A scandalous and shameful state of affairs!”
This was Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales’ reaction to the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) racking up a $468.3 million overtime bill from 2016 to 2020.
The exorbitant bill was of grave concern to a recently formed Cabinet sub-committee appointed to review the operations of WASA.
The disturbing information was contained in a detailed report which the committee, chaired by Gonzales, submitted to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to transform cash-strapped WASA.
The report stated in 2016, WASA commenced several cost-cutting initiatives which had resulted in savings of $64.7 million by the end of September 2019.
Among the initiatives they undertook 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.
The committee, however, pointed out that “one major area in which management controls are urgently required is the area of overtime and that overtime-related cost contributes to the authority’s inability to fulfil its financial obligations on a monthly basis.”
In May 2016, the report revealed that WASA formed an overtime management committee whose mandate was to analyse the historic data of overtime levels and reduce cost.
WASA has a staff complement of 4,828 employees.
This number does not include 47 members of the executive management team and 80 staff related to various programmes and projects.
Staff costs (wages and salaries) represent approximately 177 per cent of total revenue and 45.6 per cent of total operating 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,” the report stated.
“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 commented overtime recording a high of $51 million.”
The report further revealed that “in both cases, the actual was approximately 100 per cent more than projected.”
Between 2016 and 2020, the report showed that WASA “expended $207,469,234 on overtime for its daily paid employees and $260,928,512 (commented) for its monthly paid staff, for a total of $468,397,746 million or an overage of approximately $94 million annually.”
Responding to the overtime, Gonzales told Guardian Media the collective bargaining agreements between WASA and the unions recognised that between the hours of 11 am and 1 pm, WASA employees have to go back to their base to have lunch.
The crew may return to continue the job.
“And if they work during lunch hour then you have to pay a special allowance for that.”
He said one ought not to have signed collective bargaining agreements regarding “an organisation whose operations is 24 hours and the collective bargaining is negotiated on an 8 am to 4 pm basis. It is like a contrived arrangement to milk the state money.”
He said this was nothing short of a “scandal.”
Gonzales questioned why there isn’t a shift system.
“Imagine executives in WASA also negotiated their own contract and they are getting bonuses. How the people in this country would feel to know that executives in WASA compensating themselves with bonuses when they are not getting water in their taps? That is just crazy.”
Gonzales said these high-level staff who are paid “millions in salaries” yearly also received $17 million in bonuses and $7 million in gratuity for the period 2016 to 2020.
“You cannot turn around an organisation if you do not deal with those institutional dysfunctions. Because those things all contrive to ensure that the monies that go into WASA are not going towards ensuring that people get water. They are going towards paying hefty salaries, bonuses, allowances and paying contractors and water trucks.”
He said WASA will only get value for money when people start getting water.
“When you see all these monies being spent in overtime and payment of bonuses and allowances and vehicles for people the levels of service continue to deteriorate, then the country is being robbed.”
The report cited that even though the 1999 Cabinet approved structure calls for four levels of leadership and a complement of 172 employees, WASA’s current top management structure includes eight directors, 19 executive management heads, 32 executive management -senior managers, 88 departmental managers, 25 assistant managers, 35 section managers, 23 unit managers and 196 supervisors, which totalled 426 managers.
While this represented 248 per cent in excess of the approved structure, the sub-committee pointed out that WASA’s leadership had been “exceedingly top-heavy.”
The sub-committee also touched on the issue of “renegotiations of lease arrangements for vehicles.”
The report stated that following government’s move to slash expenditure at ministries and agencies by seven per cent in 2016, WASA took steps to return 100 leased vehicles to their suppliers, leaving a fleet of 301 vehicles.
A breakdown of the vehicle rentals from 2016 to 2020 showed that WASA spent $142,828,589.
“The data also record an uptick since for the year 2018 resulting in a 38.3 per cent increase in rental cost between 2018 and 2020 on account of increased rental costs for pick-ups and three-ton trucks,” the report stated.
17 allowances available to staff
The report revealed that WASA maintains a full range of benefits for all its employees, in some cases above and beyond what exists in other entities.
“The cost of its collective agreement is $1 billion annually. The wage bill represents approximately 50 per cent of the utilities operating cost with overtime costs representing between 15 to 18 of the total annual wage bill.”
In the case of daily paid employees, Saturdays and Sunday attract double and triple-time payments.
The highest utilisation of daily paid workers is in the Operations division which is at the heart of the authority’s operations.
WASA’s management is significantly compromised since it is required to manage approximately 28 allowances for the entire employee population.
The allowances include: hazard, driving, laundry, shift, separation, subsistence, rural workers (company transport), transfer, vehicle responsibility over lunch (overtime), standby, sewer maintenance worker allowance, premiums, uniform, protective clothing and/or gear, chemical handling, depth premium, abnormal hazards.
“Of these, ten relate to monthly-paid employees, 17 are related to hourly-rated workers and seven are premium-related allowances.”
In the case of security staff, nine allowances apply.
The wide range of allowances include, overtimes, on-call, and commented overtime.
In an environment of limited financial resources, the report stressed that this is unsustainable.