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WASA shakes up senior management

CEO demoted, senior managers reassigned
Published: 
Thursday, December 24, 2015

“Irregularities” at the state-run Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) have triggered a board-level call for a forensic audit into the operations at the company. Board chairman Bromley Thomas issued a simple press statement about the ongoing audit into WASA. Thomas said that “in order to properly discharge its fiduciary obligations” the board decided to order that forensic audit into the organisation.

In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday, Thomas would not give much away. “I want to protect the integrity of the audit, so I would prefer not to say anything about it at this time,” Thomas said.

The press statement indicated that former chief executive officer, Gerard Yorke, had been demoted to act as a director, corporate services, while four other senior level staff who held acting positions reverted to their previous substantive posts. Dion Abdool has been put in to act as interim CEO, but according to WASA insiders, he has already received a letter informing him that another choice for temporary CEO would be selected shortly.

Thomas did reveal though that two WASA executives have been sent on leave. “The director of operations, Steve Joseph, and the human resources director Ken Mahabir have been sent on leave,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ statement seemed designed to steer clear of the kind of criticism levelled at the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) board, which sent its managing director Jearlean John and several others on administrative leave. One of the things John challenged in a legal letter two days ago was the sequence of the actions which, in her reading, showed a board that had already made up its mind about her culpability.

In the WASA action, Thomas made clear that that leave was not linked to the audit. “It is not that they have been sent on leave pending the outcome of the audit, one is not tied to the other,” Thomas said. The WASA board met for the first time on Tuesday before taking the decision to suspend members of staff and call for an audit. 

A markedly similar approach has already been taken at four other state organisations where the first board meeting triggered suspensions and demands for a financial review. The same thing has happened at the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), National Gas Company (NGC), HDC, and Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott).

Financial investigations at the EFCL are now in police hands and despite several attempts to get an update on that investigation, the T&T Guardian has not received a response from the T&T Police Service.

The NGC suspended company president Indar Maharaj after its first board meeting. He was subsequently fired weeks later. At HDC, the new board awaits the outcome of a three-month audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers. At Udecott, new chairman Noel Garcia brought in a new CEO, Margaret Chow, bypassing senior Udecott staff.

Specific contracts probed
While Thomas did not want to say more on the audit, the T&T Guardian has since learned its focus is the award of million-dollar contracts to specific contractors. The financial investigations are examining the award of contracts between 2010 and 2015 and the T&T Guardian has learned that the accounting personnel have only just gotten to the 2012 financial books.

The T&T Guardian understands that the names of two contractors, favoured by the former People's Partnership government, have already been red-flagged by the auditors. These two companies also featured significantly in the investigations into EFCL, where a secret back room that allegedly doctored and backdated contracts at EFCL was found to be operating.

This audit comes at a time of near crisis for WASA as the company is prepping for a predicted drop in rainfall in the coming months and into next year.

Ganga Singh: I am not concerned

Former WASA CEO, former minister of water resources, Opposition Chief Whip Ganga Singh, yesterday said he was not concerned about the audit. In a telephone interview yesterday, Singh described the removal of senior executives as “vindictive.”

“This is the approach after the first board meeting? It seems that the board has embarked on a series of malicious and vindictive acts against people, with no regard to careers and reputation,” Singh said.

Singh said his only concern was how this action by the board would increase the supply of water to WASA customers.

WASA restructured
· Dion Abdool, general counsel and corporate secretary will act as CEO until further advised;
 
· Gerard Yorke, will act as director, Corporate Services;
 
· Paula Maria Fortuné, head, Legal Services, will act as general counsel and corporate secretary;
 
· Raffie David, head, Tobago Region, will act as director, Operations;
 
· Rachelle Wilkie, head, Financial Planning and Management, will act as director, Finance;
 
· May Ann Diaz, head, Workforce Planning and Organisation Development, will act as director, Human Resources.

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