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Robert Le Hunte, former Minister of Public Utilities

Agreeing that management at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) needs a major shakeup, former Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte says the Government also requires money to transform the authority which is in short supply.

Le Hunte was commenting on yesterday’s T&T Guardian article about WASA exploring its options to purchase the Desalination Company of T&T (Desalcott) which is owed $210 million by the authority for the 40 million gallons of water it supplies WASA daily.

The option to buy Desalcott was mentioned in the report of the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to review the operations of WASA.

“Also, inside there (contract) is a formula to be used by government to purchase the plant. Whether they exercise that option or not will depend on their negotiating skills with Desalcott and them being able to find the money to buy.”

Le Hunte said the truth of the matter “that is not a feasible option.”

Le Hunte, in a telephone interview yesterday said while the issue of tackling WASA’s management is on the front burner, other matters need to be addressed simultaneously.

“If you fix management but you don’t provide the financing to fix the leaks you will continue to have problems. If you don’t provide money for pressure management the leaks will still be a problem.”

Every month, WASA detects on over average 2,500 leaking pipelines.

Le Hunte said there are provisions in the contract between WASA and Desalcott for Government to buy the plant any time.

Under his tenure, Le Hunte said the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had proposed in a 2019 report on WASA a $2.8 billion loan to tackle the authority’s lingering woes.

The loan was payable over 25 years with a five-year moratorium to holistically deal with WASA’s problems.

However, Le Hunte said funds were limited back then.

Last May, Le Hunte resigned from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s administration.

“At the time of my departure and part of the bone of contention that was what (loan) were being discussed.”

The IDB, he said, also recommended a management structure to be out in place to facilitate the loan.

“At the end of the day tremendous money was going to be spent and it was felt that if this money was put into WASA’s hands they would have blown it.”

This IDB proposal, he said, covered a number of WASA’s issues along with financing mechanisms.

The IDB also maintained that drilling wells to increase water production was not the way to go.

“You don’t fix the problem by increasing production. The problem is not in production but in the distribution network, demand management measures and the availability of money.”

As it stands, he said, WASA produces approximately 243 million gallons daily which is more than enough for the country to use.

“The plan was not about metering, but metering was one of the solutions in the plan to deal with the consumption of water which would have dropped by about 50 per cent.”’

Under his tenure, Le Hunte said WASA was owed $600 million by customers who were not been paying their bills.

“The reason why those bills were not paid is because a lot of those people who get water cannot be identified in the system due to WASA’s poor record system. The metering was going to address that issue and identify those people. You have to understand to fix the problems would cost $2.8 billion. We never did it (put measures in place) because we never had the money for it.”

Under the People’s Partnership government, Le Hunte said $1.4 billion was wasted on the Beetham Wastewater which never produced a drop of water.

“Now you realise the reason why we are here is because of bad decisions made in the past in dealing with the water situation.”

Coming out of the report so far, Le Hunte said “I am glad that this minister (Marvin Gonzales) is taking the bull by its horns and the government has decided to put WASA on the front burner for corrective action.”

Le Hunte agreed WASA has been performing below expectations and needed a major shakeup.