WASA’s money drain: Billions in debts and expenses

A con­fi­den­tial Wa­ter Sales Agree­ment be­tween the Wa­ter and Sewage Au­thor­i­ty (WASA) and the De­sali­na­tion Com­pa­ny of T&T (De­sal­cott) shows that WASA pays over $50 mil­lion a month for de­sali­nat­ed wa­ter.


On Fri­day, Guardian Me­dia sat with Min­istry of Pub­lic Util­i­ties Robert Le Hunte and his spe­cial­ist team at his Tra­garete Road, Port-of-Spain of­fices to bet­ter un­der­stand WASA’s fi­nan­cial con­straints un­der its cur­rent op­er­a­tions.

At that meet­ing, it was re­vealed that WASA pays De­sal­cott $10 for one cu­bic foot of wa­ter, which equates to some $1.8 mil­lion per day. This wa­ter was ini­tial­ly sup­posed to be di­rect­ed to the in­dus­tri­al ar­eas of Point Lisas but the ad­di­tion­al out­put was even­tu­al­ly used to sup­ple­ment WASA’s sup­ply.

In 1999, WASA first con­tract­ed De­sal­cott to pur­chase 24 mil­lion gal­lons per day. But by No­vem­ber 2012, the agree­ment with De­sal­cott was amend­ed and the new sale agree­ment in­creased its pro­duc­tion from 24 mil­lion gal­lons per day to 40 mil­lion gal­lons per day. This ex­pan­sion was ex­pect­ed to be in­creased in­cre­men­tal­ly over a 13-month pe­ri­od, with the de­liv­ery of wa­ter in­creas­ing over this pe­ri­od up to 40 mil­lion gal­lons per day by De­cem­ber 2013. 

This in­creased sup­ply of wa­ter was ex­pect­ed to al­low WASA to fur­ther sup­ple­ment its sup­ply of potable wa­ter to res­i­dents and busi­ness­es in south Trinidad. Just last year, that pro­duc­tion fig­ure was ramped up again to 42 mil­lion gal­lons per day.

Guardian Me­dia con­tact­ed De­sal­cott chair­man John Thomp­son for in­for­ma­tion on the agree­ment but he de­clined to an­swer any ques­tions on the sales agree­ment and di­rect­ed our re­quests to Le Hunte.

“I can’t say any­thing about the agree­ment be­cause it is con­fi­den­tial,” Thomp­son said in a brief tele­phone in­ter­view last week.

The pri­ma­ry mar­ket for the wa­ter pro­duced by De­sal­cott is still the Point Lisas In­dus­tri­al Es­tate ten­ants, who cur­rent­ly pay mar­ket rates. Ex­cess wa­ter is utilised by WASA to bol­ster its sup­ply to south Trinidad. But Le Hunte and his team ad­mit­ted that de­sali­nat­ed wa­ter was the most ex­pen­sive way to im­prove the coun­try’s lag­ging sup­ply.

Bil­lion-dol­lar loans due next year

The al­ready cash-strapped WASA will soon have to find mon­ey to make pay­ments on two mas­sive mul­ti-bil­lion loans bor­rowed in 2011 and 2013 to fund projects that have not yet been com­plet­ed. 

This re­pay­ment will be han­dled by the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Min­istry, even at a time when Le Hunte is look­ing for over a bil­lion dol­lars to im­ple­ment the much-need­ed me­ter­ing sys­tem to bet­ter mon­i­tor wa­ter us­age through­out the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­ceived by Guardian Me­dia and con­firmed by the min­istry, in 2011 the then gov­ern­ment ac­cessed a $340 mil­lion loan fa­cil­i­ty from the In­ter-Amer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Bank to pump in­to its Waste­water In­fra­struc­ture Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme. The mon­ey was ex­pect­ed to go to­wards the de­sign and con­struc­tion of the Trinci­ty Waste­water Treat­ment Plant.

The au­thor­i­ty was ex­pect­ed to use this bond fa­cil­i­ty for im­prove­ment works in the ar­eas of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions with­in the coun­try, per­son­nel and staff ef­fi­cien­cy and waste­water man­age­ment op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance per­for­mance. The pro­ject­ed ex­pen­di­ture for the pe­ri­od April to Sep­tem­ber 2018 was $76.5 mil­lion and for 2019 it is $55 mil­lion

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­ceived by Guardian Me­dia, the pro­gramme com­pris­es three com­po­nents:-

1.  Im­prove­ment of Trinidad and To­ba­go’s waste­water sys­tem, which in­volves the re­fur­bish­ment, up­grade and in­te­gra­tion or de­com­mis­sion­ing of mal­func­tion­ing waste­water treat­ment plants

2.  Re­struc­tur­ing of the or­gan­i­sa­tion struc­ture to im­prove ef­fi­cien­cy with­in the Au­thor­i­ty; and 

3.  In­sti­tu­tion­al strength­en­ing of the waste­water man­age­ment op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance per­for­mance, which in­cludes train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for the new stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures for the im­proved waste­water sys­tems.

In 2013 un­der the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship ad­min­is­tra­tion, WASA took on a $1.7 bil­lion loan for the con­struc­tion of two treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties—the Mal­abar Waste­water Treat­ment Plant and Col­lec­tion Sys­tem at a to­tal cost of $620,194,021.00 and an­oth­er $654,053,426.17 for the San Fer­nan­do Waste­water Treat­ment Plant and Col­lec­tion Sys­tem.

Work on the Mal­abar fa­cil­i­ty was com­mis­sioned in April 2015 and was on­ly com­plet­ed and opened in Ju­ly 2019.

Works for the San Fer­nan­do catch­ment area com­menced in fis­cal 2015 and is sched­uled for com­ple­tion in fis­cal 2019. 

Works for the Mal­abar catch­ment area com­menced in 2015 and was sched­uled for com­ple­tion in 2018 but was even­tu­al­ly com­plet­ed in Ju­ly 2019.

The in­sti­tu­tion­al strength­en­ing com­po­nent of the pro­gramme mean­while in­volves the en­gage­ment of a con­sul­tant for the pro­vi­sion of cor­po­rate gov­er­nance ser­vices. 

The es­ti­mat­ed cost of the pro­gramme is $1,577.6 mil­lion and ex­pen­di­ture for April 2018 to Sep­tem­ber 2018 was pegged at $227.1 mil­lion and at $225.4 mil­lion for 2019.

The mon­ey was al­so ex­pect­ed to help WASA im­prove its fi­nan­cial sys­tem and its Ge­o­graph­ic In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem data­base. How­ev­er, to date, WASA has been un­able to pro­vide any cred­i­ble da­ta on wa­ter us­age or dis­tri­b­u­tion flows through its sys­tems.

Guardian Me­dia ap­proached WASA for in­for­ma­tion on its dis­tri­b­u­tion per con­stituen­cy and was told that that ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion did not ex­ist.

“The Au­thor­i­ty’s potable wa­ter dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem is not aligned to con­stituen­cy bound­aries. As such, it is not pos­si­ble to pro­vide da­ta on wa­ter dis­tri­b­u­tion or us­age by con­stituen­cy as re­quest­ed,” said Daniel Plen­ty at WASA’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment.

 Oth­er loans: 

-An­oth­er IDB bond is­sue to­talling some $1,335.9 mil­lion was utilised to fi­nance the con­struc­tion and re­fur­bish­ment of wa­ter stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, new boost­er sta­tions, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a net­work man­age­ment sys­tem, a pres­sure man­age­ment sys­tem, the re­place­ment of leak­ing mains and the ex­pan­sion of the Trin­i­ty Reser­voir. This in­volves the im­ple­men­ta­tion of 99 projects of which eight are on hold and 69 were com­plet­ed, 20 projects have been de­ferred while two are be­ing fund­ed un­der the IDB pro­gramme. 

 -Un­der the ban­ner Na­tion­al So­cial De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (Wa­ter Com­po­nent) in 2002, WASA start­ed a pro­gramme to im­prove wa­ter sup­ply to the pop­u­la­tion, where the sup­ply was less than 84 hours per week and in ar­eas which were with­out a wa­ter sup­ply. The pro­gramme in­volved the im­ple­men­ta­tion of 513 projects. To date, 502 have been com­plet­ed, eight are in progress and three are no longer re­quired be­cause of sys­tem re­con­fig­u­ra­tions. 

The pro­gramme is fi­nanced by a bond is­sue in the sum of $304 mil­lion. 

The pro­ject­ed ex­pen­di­ture for the pe­ri­od April to Sep­tem­ber 2018 was $2.2 mil­lion and $21 mil­lion for 2019.