3080805
WASA Head Office in St Joseph.

A March 8, 2021 summary of payments by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has confirmed that the company owned by the wife of Public Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke—has been paid a total of $16,389,436.01 between 2012 and 2020.

A copy of the reported payments obtained by Guardian Media showed that Blackstone Engineering Technologies Ltd (BETL) which is owned by Kimberly De Silva-Duke, would have been paid by both the People’s Partnership (PP) and People’s National Movement (PNM) governments.

Information contained in the three-page document shows the total value of contracts awarded to BETL was listed at $16,984,326.18 – which means that De Silva-Duke is still owed $594,890.17 by WASA for completed works.

Of the $16.3 million paid thus far, BETL would have collected $11.4 million under the PP regime, while the PNM would have paid out $4.9 million.

A breakdown showed BETL collected the largest payment of $6,524,188.86 from the PP between October 2012 to May 2014.

And between June 2014 to December 2014, BETL received $3,279,391.92. During the period January 2015 to September 2015, BETL was paid $1,667,593.11.

Under the PNM government, BETL collected payments totalling $4,918,272.12.

Three months after the PNM assumed office under Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, BETL was paid $281,393.50 between October 2015 to December 2015.

And from January 2016 to December 2020, the firm netted $4,636,878.62 in payments.

BETL has received no payouts for this year so far.

The document quoted from a review of the Oracle Financial System for the period June 2014 to February 2021, which outlined contracts awarded to BETL under the following three WASA Tender Committees (WTCs).

WTCs 05/2010 and 101/2013 for the provisions of mains repairs, installation of stop corks, curb valves and metres on an as and when required basis for a two year period;

WTC 30/2014 for provision for ground maintenance services at various facilities throughout Trinidad for a three year period.

The document stated, “The contract for the provision of main repairs, installation of stop corks, curb valves and meters was awarded to a pool of bonded contractors, utilising fixed rates for the provision of various services on an as and when required basis.”

It further stated that the last works awarded to BETL were for the provision of ground maintenance for a six month period from May 2017 to October 2017.

The total VAT-inclusive value of payments made to BETL over the period June 2014 to February 2021, was $9,865,247.15. It is as follows:

“Main repairs and installation of stop corks etc- total purchase order value generated was $8,173,172.77 of which $7,736,449.73 has been paid to date and ground maintenance- total purchase order value generated was $2,274,860.29 of which $2,128,797.42 has been paid to date,” the document stated.

In addition to the $9,865,247.15 stated above, the document revealed “a total of $6,524,188.86 was paid during the period October 20212 to May 2014, making the total payment of $16,389,436.01. When this figure is added to the outstanding payments of $594,890.17, this accounts for the total value of the contracts awarded to $16.9 million.”

The Internal Audit and Compliance Division (IACD) reviewed BETL’s supplier statement dated November 29, 2019, which indicated an outstanding sum of $2,046,330.01 was owed by the Authority.

In response, WASA officials wrote in the report, “Having considered Finance Division’s supplier reconciliation and subsequent payments, a balance of $594,890.17 is identified as the potential sum owed to the company by the Authority.”

“Of this outstanding amount, $284,104,01 has been confirmed to be unrecorded liabilities by Finance and the balance, $ 310,786.16 is still to be verified before payment. Of these, one invoice for $55,355.94 relates to pipeline maintenance works and the balance of $539,534.23 relates to retention amounts.”

A summary of unpaid invoices claimed by BETL showed 30 invoices were submitted.

The document showed 11 of the invoices were for the provision of mains repairs, etc and ground maintenance; while 19 were listed as “unclassified.”

The total value of the 30 invoices (VAT inclusive) was put at $594,890.17.

The value of the 19 unclassified invoices inclusive of VAT was put at $105,310.96

The document highlighted matters of concern regarding the review of board and tenders committee division for (WTC) 05/2010 on an as and when required basis for an 18 month period which claimed:

* BETL was not part of the original listing of 27 contractors approved to be awarded contracts at the 675th meeting of the Board held on March 18, 2011; and

*The company was approved for inclusion at the 219th TC meeting held on May 17, 2012, more than a year after the original approval.

“Another of IACD’s report, special request- validation of bonded contractors under WTC’s numbers 101/2013 and 07/2014 dated December 7, 2017, identified Blackstone was awarded a contract under WTC number 101/2013-provision of mains repairs, installation of stop corks, curb valves and meters on an as and when required basis for a two year period from August 2014 to July 2016.”

The review was performed following a request made by the Tenders Committee (TC) at its 267th meeting held on April 6, 2017.

“The newly appointed TC required assurance as to whether the bonded contractors being requested for extension of contracts were selected through the approved tendering process.”

However, the following were reported and observed.

“The report indicated that it appeared there was willful circumvention of the Authority’s procurement process and exploitation of Tender Rule 18 (e) by previous management for the inclusion of 54 contractors (including BETL) who did not satisfy the Authority’s evaluation yet have been awarded contracts,” under WTC 101/2013.

A review of the working papers revealed that ten requests were made to the TC or the board over an eight-month period between October 2014 to May 2015.

“With respect to Blackstone, approval was obtained from the board at its 718th meeting held on October 31, 2014, for the inclusion of Blackstone, who was not evaluated as part of the tendering process along with three other contractors as part of WTC 101/2013.”

It stated that the original request was made to the 246th Tender Committee held on October 24, 2014, by two high ranking officials of WASA (names called) “to retroactively include the contractors from the inception of the WTC, August 1, 2014, to the expiration of same-July 2016, in accordance with the Tender Rule 18(e).”

“It was also noted that general counsel and corporate secretary did raise concerns with the sole select of the contractors for the inclusion under the WTC in an email dated September 11, 2014” to one of the then high ranking officials.

The document admitted that WASA was no longer issuing contracts for the provision of ground maintenance or main repairs, installation of stop corks, curb valves and meters, as these are now performed internally and form part of management’s cost-cutting initiatives.

Duke: Gonzales obsessed with me and my wife

Indicating BETL had nothing to do with the award of contracts or procurement, PSA president Watson Duke yesterday said his wife’s company had earned every penny it had so far been paid, as it had performed legitimate works in the past for WASA.

In a telephone interview, Duke reiterated that he was no longer employed by the WASA and that he only visited the State entity approximately three times per year to conduct employee negotiations.

Commenting on the information contained in the above-mentioned document, Duke said, “WASA has money for us and WASA should pay us for the work done.”

He said BETL had nothing to feel ashamed about.

“If you worked and the work was satisfactory, then you should be paid…anybody.”

He said there were Cabinet ministers whose wives and relatives were in similar positions as his wife and receiving billion-dollar contracts for work from the State, Duke added, “T&T is a small country. The problem is not people working, the problem is whether people can legitimately do the work.”

“We are not the only contractor, we are a small contractor so I am still lost as to the point. Is it that a woman should not be successful? Is it that she should not do diligent work and be paid for it? Or should she not work at all and depend on her husband to mind her?”

Questioning what is the obsession with his wife, Duke accused Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales of waging a personal vendetta against him and De Silva-Duke in a bid to break them up.

He said his family was being unfairly targeted in the cherry-picking campaign, which is now “exposing my wife to a robbery.”

Duke alleged, “I think they are trying to set my wife up and I am now beginning to take umbrage with that. I have been seeking legal redress but now, I feel I will have to hasten that against that minister….that little boy called Speedy Gonzales.”

He concluded, “Whatever his obsession is with me, he has to understand that I do not like him. I am not into him. What God has put together, let no man put asunder.”

Minister: Unions and WASA management colluding

Contacted for comment yesterday, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said the information which has found its way into the public domain “continues to vindicate the findings of the December 11, 2020 report of the Cabinet sub-committee on WASA that the unions and their relations have become providers of goods and services to the authority.”

This situation, Gonzales said, has led to “a breakdown of governance and contributed to overall mismanagement of the Authority. It is probably the reason why some union leaders’ solutions for fixing WASA is pumping more taxpayers’ money into WASA. The citizens of this country need water in their taps and this will be done in a framework of good governance and culture of accountability within WASA.”