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Sale of properties a last resort —WASA
The chairman of the Water and Sewerage Authority Romney Thomas says State agencies including Government ministries owe $26 million to the Authority—a mere fraction of the $500 million owed to it.
Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday Thomas, who on Tuesday announced that properties will be seized and placed for sale in a bid to collect the outstanding monies owed, said a different approach will have to be taken in dealing with the debt owed by the State sector. He said WASA is in dire need of all monies owed to it but the sale of people’s properties will be the last resort.
While he could provide no details on which Government agencies owe money, Thomas said WASA’s approach to the State debt will involve “discussions with whatever institutions owe the money. We are trying to persuade them to actually make these payments.”
He said some of the debt owed by the State “may be in the current period but we are trying to get all monies in as soon as possible.”
Earlier this year WASA embarked on a collection drive when it published the names of delinquent residential customers. Thomas said: “We have had some success in terms of recovering some of the money owing to us.”
He said they had “worked out payment plans with some people and sometimes you disconnect some people and they come in and pay their arrears, but some even if you disconnect them they don’t pay. But we have had some success. I cannot tell you the exact figure but I know it is not to the extent that we would like.”
Thomas admitted that the fact that the arrears owed have risen to a huge amount is partially due to “negligence” on the part of WASA itself.
But he said since he assumed office “we are now very vigilant and we have tried to embark on a campaign to encourage people to pay.”
Disconnection for WASA, he said, is more difficult than for T&TEC “most of the time unless you have a meter we have to go underground, we have to dig up, and disconnect the consumer.”
Former Public Utilities Minister Ganga Singh said the threat to sell off private properties “and engage in the recovery of arrears that way is nothing but a red herring and a big distraction. They need to get the state agencies and the Ministries to pay their bills.”
Singh said if WASA pursued the course of action outlined by the chairman “the Authority will end up paying higher legal fees than the monies they will recover.”
Singh was also of the view that a significant amount of the money owed from residential customers is “uncollectable because the residential customers that owe that are in high crime areas in which WASA crews cannot go to disconnect the customers.”
Thomas said when crews have to go into high-risk areas they are supported by WASA security and members of the Police Service.