We have a payment plan from Five Islands | Local company

In February 2022, the Board of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) took the decision to publish the names of its corporate clients who owed the utility large sums of money.

WASA had exhausted its efforts to contact them in order to pay the sums due and had even served termination notices on a few of them.

A list containing 30 names was presented to the council as they collectively owed over $3 million.

The council approved the release of the list of 30 names without indicating how much each individual owed.

On March 9, an announcement was published in the Express which lists customers who have requested to contact their WASA Regional Account Representative during the period March 9-23 “on matters of mutual interest”.

Only 28 names have been released.

The two names omitted were Chaguaramas Water and Amusement Park (Five Islands) and Chagville Beach Resort.

Five Islands owed $429,852.69.

Following the release of the announcement, which did not comply with the council’s directive to release all 30 names, acting chief executive Sherland Sheppard was called to account.

In an email to President Ravi Nanga, dated April 10, 2022, Sheppard apologized for the omission and provided an explanation for his action.

He noted that during the 99th meeting of the finance committee held on January 24, a note was submitted to publish the names in the dailies and have them contact the authority urgently.

This decision was approved by the Board of Commissioners at its 805th board meeting held on February 23.

“The memo pointed out that the purpose of announcing customers in daily newspapers is to contact the authority since these customers have not received, read or responded to the authority’s debt collection actions by liquidating their account,” indicates the email.

She noted that publicity would provide an opportunity to respond favorably to WASA’s debt collection actions.

Sheppard noted that at the committee meeting, the approved decisions were as follows:

1. Publication of the names of 30 clients in accordance with the Authority’s debt collection policy, pending the revision of the publication template

2. The committee asked the Chief Executive Officer (Ag) to liaise with the Chairman of the Board to ensure that the Ministry of Public Services agrees to the publication of the announcement.

3. Management has been advised to ensure that all debt collection efforts have been exhausted for each client, prior to publication.

He assumed that the notification to publish their names was subject to the above.

He told the committee meeting, that Five Islands “has not liquidated all monies owed and has refused to enter into a formal payment agreement despite numerous phone calls, emails and notices sent. As as such, Five Islands met the criteria submitted for publication in daily newspapers”.

He also attached a disconnection notice that WASA sent to Five Islands on December 6, 2021.

He clarified: “Prior to publishing the announcement, an email was received from Five Islands on February 25 and 28 formally requesting the arrangement of a payment plan to liquidate the outstanding debt of $369,731.06 on an account (unlisted) over 18 months since the original overdue amount of $429,852.69 was reduced by the payment made of $60,121.63 on February 23, 2022.”

Sheppard said the payment and written request for a payment plan to liquidate outstanding arrears “preemptively fulfills the purpose of getting Five Islands into the papers.

“He is also showing good faith especially since two additional payments were made on March 10,” he said and a request for an 18-month payment schedule to settle his debt of 369,731.06 dollars.

“Therefore, it is against this background and in line with the finance committee decision where management “was advised to ensure that all debt collection efforts were exhausted for each client, prior to publication”, l Five Islands announcement has been postponed,” Sheppard concluded.

The ad in which the notice was posted was March 9 and the payments to keep the account up to date were March 10.

Suspension and demotion

Sheppard was subsequently suspended and an internal investigation was conducted.

When the initial suspension ended, his suspension was extended for another month.

In a published statement, WASA said the investigation “determined that the Acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Sherland Sheppard, failed to ensure that a decision of the Board of Directors was fully complied with by the authority”.

The press release said: “Given the seriousness of this matter, a decision has been made to suspend Mr Sheppard for a period of one month.”

One of WASA’s senior executives, Kelvin Romain, who was named chief executive in the interim of Sheppard’s initial suspension, will continue in that role.

In response to a question from the Express at the time, Nanga said, “The board made a decision and the CEO was obligated to implement that decision. The CEO failed to ensure that the decision was fully implemented, resulting in the board’s decision being changed upon implementation. The matter was investigated, following which a charge was laid. The CEO provided a response to the charge, which was reviewed and based on the findings of the investigation, the decision was made to suspend.

Sheppard, a former interim chief operating officer, was appointed chief executive last year after the management team was restructured following the resignation of former chief executive Dr Lennox Sealy on 8 July.

Sealy lasted five months on the job.

Sealy had replaced former interim CEO Alan Poon King, who is now director of client services.

“The Board is resolute in its quest to improve the level of service that is currently provided and continues to review the operations of the Authority and take the necessary decisions to improve those operations in order to strive to achieve its mandate. “, said the statement at the time of his appointment had said.

Last week, Public Services Minister Marvin Gonzales said Sheppard would not return as interim chief executive, but would return to his senior job.

“The CEO was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation that was conducted. The investigation was completed in approximately two weeks and he was found guilty,” Gonzales said.

“He was asked to explain his conduct. Due process was followed and the board made the decision to suspend him for a month without pay for the violation. This month-long suspension ended last week. I was notified by the chairman of the board, and the CEO was asked to return to his substantive position, which is senior management, and he was asked to take an additional 50 days of vacation. He has therefore been ordered to take additional leave and return to his substantial senior management position,” he added.

Princes Town MP Barry Padarath called on Sheppard to break his silence and not allow the government to use him as a scapegoat in the matter.

Reduced debt

Responding to questions from The Sunday Express about the council’s decision to publish the names, Nanga said: “As part of the transformation, WASA has launched a fundraising campaign. This is one of many areas the board is addressing as part of the transformation. We have started targeting the most delinquent accounts. The publication is used in accordance with our debt collection policy, i.e. where we have been unable to contact the customer, in relation to customers who do not respond and those who have not not paid their arrears or have made little or no payments on the accounts in two years. We encourage people to contact us to make arrangements to clear arrears as we try to avoid disconnections during the pandemic.

He said that following the publication, several customers contacted the Authority and either settled their outstanding balances in full or made deposits into their accounts and entered into payment plan agreements to settle their outstanding sums in installments. spread over a given period.

Together they owed $1,696,996.25.

“WASA works with customers and has offered payment plan agreements so that customers can settle outstanding amounts in installments, while paying outstanding bills,” he said.

Regarding Five Islands, he would simply say: “Because the customer’s identity is now public, the status of the account is confidential. However, what I can say is that the customer is treated in accordance with the WASA Debt Collection Policy.

Regarding Chagville Beach Resort, Nanga said that the customer’s account status is confidential.

When the Sunday Express asked if Mr Sheppard had given a reason why the name had been omitted, Nanga replied: “An investigation has been carried out and Mr Sheppard has given a reason why the name has been omitted over the course of investigation.”

At the height of the pandemic last June, WASA came under heavy criticism after taking debt collection action against customers who failed to pay their outstanding arrears or contact the Authority to reach an agreement. in this sense.

This resulted in the disconnection of several customers in Barataria, San Juan and Chaguanas.

In a statement released at the time, WASA said it would pursue similar actions in other parts of Trinidad and Tobago, with a view to recovering unpaid tariffs under the Water and Wastewater Act. remediation, under which the Authority can implement several punitive actions to recover payments, including disconnection. service and sale of goods.

Faced with the backlash, the action was halted.