Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke has been challenged to come clean with his members and the nation about his wife’s company, Blackstone Engineering Technologies Ltd, which was paid a total of just over $9.8 million from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) between 2014 and 2020.
During a media briefing last weekend, Duke confirmed the engineering company was owned by his wife Kim De Silva-Duke. Asked whether he did not see a conflict of interest in the company bidding for WASA contracts, Duke said the company paid its taxes and was entitled to bid for contracts like any other company. However, he claimed that since the People’s National Movement had come into power the company had received no contracts. In fact, he said WASA was still owing the company for work done.
However, a breakdown of payment documents which Guardian Media obtained from WASA shows otherwise.
The largest payout of $3,279,391.92 was made to the company in 2014, which would have been under the then People’s Partnership government, while in 2015 it received approximately $1.9 million. Under the PNM administration, De Silva-Duke received payments totalling $4.6 million for the period 2016 to 2020.
WASA’s audit books also currently show De Silva-Duke is owed $3 million.
Claiming he was not involved in his wife’s company over the weekend, Duke was unable to say who the directors or shareholders were.
A document obtained by Guardian Media, dated July 6, 2015, from the Ministry of Legal Affairs listed De Silva-Duke and Kurnel De Silva as directors. De Silva-Duke was also listed as the incorporator, whose occupation was said to be N/A, while De Silva’s occupation proclaimed he was an air traffic controller.
Kurnel De Silva, said to be Duke’s step-son, was also listed as the company’s secretary on an application form for suppliers/contractors/consultants to WASA’s Purchasing Department during 2015/2016. July 16, 2019 and August 28, 2020 documents from the Registrar General’s Department in the Ministry of Legal Affairs listed Kurnel De Silva’s occupation as N/A.
Duke has accused the PNM of engaging in political spite for not awarding Blackstone Engineering a single contract since it assumed office in 2015.
However, records show total payments made to the company between 2014 to 2020 tallied $9,865,247.15.
The exact figure showed the company, which listed its address as Congo Hill, Woodlands, Moriah, Tobago, received $3,279,391.92 in 2014, followed by $1,948,976.61 in 2015. The company submitted to WASA a total of 129 invoices between 2014 and 2020, with 33 submitted last year alone. A payment record in March 2020 showed the company received $425,196.88 in payments.
According to the documents, the types of services the company offered included ground maintenance; pipe maintenance; provision of mains repairs; installation of stop cocks; curb valves and meters; laying of pvc pipes; construction; plumbing; electrical and general remedial works.
Work was said to be completed by Blackstone Engineering on projects in Laventille, Malick, Diego Martin, Port-of-Spain and Tobago.
Responding to concerns surrounding the payouts yesterday, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said the contracts “showed evidence of serious conflicts of interest and perhaps he (Duke) should explain if there was a declaration of interest in the award of these contracts.”
Gonzales said Duke claimed to be on secondment but “continues to be a member of staff of the organisation. He is still on the establishment … therefore it creates the position of a conflict of interest.”
As PSA president, Duke is on secondment to the trade union from WASA.
Gonzales also denied claims by Duke that his wife’s company had not received any monies in the past six years.
“To say that the company is owed six years now is a blatant lie. He (Duke) should come clean with WASA workers and the population. Stop hiding!” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said Duke had deceived his membership and the citizens.
He also dismissed claims by Duke that he has not drawn a salary from WASA in the past 12 years.
“He continues to be a member of staff of the organisation, notwithstanding the fact he claimed he is on secondment…he is still on the establishment.”
Gonzales admitted that following the scandalous disclosure, he has ordered that contracts be placed under closer scrutiny by WASA officials.
Calls to De Silva-Duke’s cell phone went to voicemail yesterday, while Duke’s cell phone also went unanswered although messages sent to him via What’sApp were received and read. No response was forthcoming.