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FLASHBACK: WASA workers repair a burst water line caused by the mud volcano in Piparo in September 2019.

Chester Sambrano

The government has planned to reduce its yearly allocation to the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) by almost $600 million.

The decline comes at a time when there is a Cabinet sub-committee set up to review the operations of the Authority to make critical changes amid unprofitability.

According to the Draft Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of Statutory Board and Similar Bodies and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) 2021 document WASA is to receive $1 billion in this fiscal year as opposed to the $1.6 billion it requested. This represents a decrease of $595,082,500.

In 2019 WASA was given funding to the tune of $1.7 billion.

The document shows other income being generated, among them, from metered supplies, unmetered supplies, Pt Lisas accounts and royalties, and in the end the total income projected amounts to $2.48 billion, a decline of $286 million in revenue compared to the previous year.

According to the document, there are to be several decreases in expenditure at WASA as well. Under the line item Salaries and Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) there is a decrease of $174 million and Wages and COLA also see a drop of $112 million.

Goods and Services is another area where projected expenditure is declining from $1.4 billion to just over $1 billion.

Guardian Media sought clarity from Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales on the significant reduction in state support for WASA.

“As the Finance Minister indicated, given the drastic fall in the country’s revenue and the impact of COVID on T&T and the world economy, the Govt does not have the financial resources to pump $2 billion annually into WASA,” he said.

The Minister added that, therefore, WASA’s board and management are required to “manage the utility in a manner that accords with fiscal prudence and fiscal responsibility in light of the new realities.”

He added that, “we will identify those areas of wastage and move swiftly towards reengineering and restructuring the utility to ensure value for money for the citizens as well as sound corporate governance.”

In recent times WASA has been under increased scrutiny and there were concerns of mass retrenchment.

Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke has since advised the government to increase water rates and keep all the jobs.

He has also signalled his intention to fight any plan to remove staff at the authority.

A Cabinet sub-committee set up by the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to address the lingering water woes, was given three months to come up with a comprehensive plan to improve the country’s water supply to citizens.

Among the areas the committee will examine will be WASA’s operations, mounting debt, ageing pipelines, governance structure and poor water distribution.

Chairing the committee is Minister Gonzales, who will work alongside members— Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles, Energy Minister Franklin Khan and Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox.

The committee has to submit recommendations and a framework for the restructuring of the water company to Rowley by November 30.

As he delivered the budget on Monday Finance Minister Colm Imbert said while the report has not yet been received, the government is looking at increasing the water tariffs in this country.

The Public Utilities Ministry under which WASA falls will be allocated $2.091 billion compared to $3 billion in the last fiscal year.

The overall 2020/2021 budget is $49.5 billion.