Parliament meets today for what is described as a mere formality, to confirm Justice Paula Mae-Weekes as this country’s sixth President.
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WASA $5bn in debt
Cash-strapped Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is now saddled with a $5 billion debt.
This was revealed yesterday by WASA chairman Romney Thomas during a Public Accounts Committee meeting chaired by Dr Bhoe Tewarie, which examined WASA’s audited financial statements for the period 2008 to 2013.
Giving a breakdown of WASA’s operating cost, Thomas said the water authority received $1.9 billion in subventions from the Government this fiscal year, while it generated $700 million in revenue.
Thomas explained that while WASA’s annual expenditure was $2.7 billion, the State-owned company was faced with huge debts.
Asked by committee member Melissa Ramkissoon what was WASA’s debt for 2017, Thomas said if he remembered currently, the figure was around “$5 billion.”
WASA’s acting director of finance Giselle Spence said the debt fell into different areas. She explained that validated invoices to contractors and suppliers was over $300 million, while unvalidated invoices due for payment stood at beyond $1 billion. WASA also has a loan portfolio and recurrent operating expenditure which “would have been close to $2 billion,” Spence added.
In addition to this, Thomas said WASA had significant lawsuits before the court, some of from contractors. He said WASA has been on a cost cutting drive in the last two years which led to the company saving millions of dollars.
Among the measures taken to cut expenditure were renting less vehicles, curtailing advertising and significantly reducing the number of contracts awarded. Thomas said WASA has also been utilising its in-house staff to undertake work which was previously done by contractors.
Romney also said it costs WASA $2,000 per disconnection, while its re-connection fee is $250. WASA has 5,000 daily and monthly paid employees, he pointed out.
Acting director of customer care, Alan Poon-King, admitted WASA was overstaffed.
“Within the Caribbean, they have around seven employees per 1,000 connections. We are currently at around 13 employees per 1,000 connections,” Poon-King said.
However, Thomas gave the assurance that WASA would not cut jobs “at this point in time.”
In a bid to raise its own funds, Thomas said WASA has toyed with the idea of bottling its own water, which has a vibrant market, but they were yet to finalise this decision. He also admitted that it would cost WASA $3 billion to replace its ageageing pipelines, some of which have outlived their lifespan of 25 years.
While WASA supplies 92 per cent of the population with water, CEO Dr Ellis Burris said there are approximately 2,151 leaks to be fixed.
Daily,WASA loses between 43 to 50 per cent of its water from leaking pipelines, which the committee found alarming.