The brazen attack on two Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) workers at Powder Magazine, Cocorite, on Tuesday, exposed the ineffectiveness of the utility.
Where was the security to protect employees who go out to fix broken lines in high-risk areas?
It is all good for WASA to come on Wednesday and say they will pay for the funeral expenses of one slain worker, and the medical expenses of the other lying in a hospital bed.
Why has WASA exposed its workers in high-risk communities without security? It is no secret that for years, WASA has had to deal with criminal elements in certain areas. It is very simple. The criminals in areas feel they should be doing work in their communities, whether it is work from WASA, T&TEC, TSTT, and the paving of streets.
Because of threats made in certain areas, the WASA management over the years took the decision to send out their armed security with their workers. The decision was made that all crews will be accompanied by security from Carenage to Arima. There were many areas where WASA workers were chased out of crime hot spots by the criminal gangs.
Residents in these areas were very upset as they remained without water for weeks because of the decision of a few to chase away WASA workers. Under the last Government, WASA had employed a security firm, T&T Security Services, to assist in security arrangements at all WASA installations and to accompany the crews on jobs.
But when the PNM Government came into office in 2015, there was a dispute with the new WASA Board and the owner of the security firm, Towfeek Ali. This led to Ali withdrawing his services, put 800 security officers on the breadline because WASA refused to honor a bill of $100 million.
The withdrawal of security services effectively reduced WASA’s ability to handle security across the board, and therefore crews, like the one which went to Powder Magazine on Tuesday, went on the job with no security back-up.
On Tuesday morning, Nejie Ja Ja and his colleague Luke Rampersad were on a job site in Powder Magazine, Cocorite, when a gunman approached them and opened fire. No warning, but the motive was clear. After both men fell into a trench, the gunman escaped.
Ja Ja, 27, was killed while Rampersad, 34, a Waterworks Craftsman, was wounded and is awarded at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital after receiving initial treatment at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital. His injury is not life-threatening, WASA said.
A news release from WASA said the Ja Ja was employed as an Attendant with the Authority for the past three years.
WASA said the men were part of a crew dispatched by the Authority to perform repairs to a leaking pipeline at Powder Magazine.
At the end of April this year, T&T Security Services (TTSS), a company led by businessman Towfeek Ali, abruptly ended its relationship with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).
This forced WASA to turn to the Police Service and Defence Force to guard the Navet, Caroni and Arena reservoirs after one of its private security contractors prematurely terminated its contract because of a staggering $100 million in the excess bill.
Confirmation came from WASA’s chairman, Romney Thomas, who admitted that the company, T&T Security Services (TTSS), withdrew its services around 7 pm on Tuesday. TTSS has a staff of 800 employees who provided security to WASA’s two reservoirs and other facilities.
Thomas said when he heard of the sudden walkout he contacted National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and then Public Utilities Minister Ancil Antoine about the incident. Thereafter the T&T Police Service and the T&T Defence Force were notified.
“The police and army were able to give us short-term cover in those critical high-risk areas so the facilities have been and will always remain covered. We had assistance to ensure that they were properly protected.”
Thomas said other security firms employed by the WASA provided additional security at critical areas where water was stored.
Asked what was the overall payment owed to TTSS, Thomas said: “They (TTSS) are claiming in excess of $100 million. It is nowhere near that figure, based on our last view.” He said TTSS’ three-year contract was valued at $146 million “which I think is high in any case. That is something we were in the process of reviewing in any case.”
Thomas said TTSS still had 18 months left on the contract. “They are claiming that we have $100 million for them already. It just does not add up. If I remember correctly the compliment of workers in the contract was under 400.”
Thomas said while WASA “will settle all legitimate claims, we have some concerns about some of the level of billing because they were doing a lot of work that was out of scope. I don’t think there was proper documentation for it so we have to make sure there is proper documentation. That is what we were doing…reviewing the invoices… having a proper audit done on those invoices.”
He could not say when they would pay TTSS, stating WASA always faces a cash flow issue.
Well, WASA’s cash flow problem, that is, limited security may have been the reason for the death of one of its employees. Will Ja Ja or his family get justice? His father was also a former employee of WASA.
WASA WORKERS ON THE JOB