By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE termination of Glen Laville from the post of general manager of the Water and Sewerage Corporation could be the “tip of the iceberg,” insiders told The Tribune yesterday, adding there are fears others may be fired in the aftermath of Ernst and Young’s audit of the water provider.
Mr Laville was fired Wednesday and accused by WSC Chairman Adrian Gibson of mismanaging the affairs of the corporation.
Mr Laville, in an interview with The Nassau Guardian, said he would not take his termination lying down and hoped to give WSC an opportunity to retract some of the issues in the EY report, which he said were false.
He has indicated an intention to seek legal redress.
“You know things have been shaky here at the corporation for a while now and the firing of Laville doesn’t do anything to help,” one executive told The Tribune yesterday on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.
“Many of us wonder and are coming to the conclusion that other high-ranking people out of this corporation are next. The line staff and others do not appear to be safe either. We surmise that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. This EY audit has opened Pandora’s box.”
However, President of the Bahamas Utilities Service and Allied Workers Union Dwayne Woods predicted yesterday Mr Laville’s firing would not necessarily affect employees. He said for the most part, workers just wanted operations to return to normal when WSC was not under public scrutiny, suggesting low employee morale.
However, Mr Gibson said the staff morale was heightened as a result of the EY audit tabled in the House of Assembly last week.
“They are looking forward to reform and the possibilities of a brighter future at the corporation,” Mr Gibson said yesterday.
“We want to shift the culture. Implement proper procurement processes; strengthen internal collections efforts - $44m is outstanding. Embrace innovative and new approaches to Water and Sewerage, for example, the startup of a (reverse osmosis) unit to properly oversee and administer RO contracts, capably oversee and/or even operate plants; foster an environment for greater staff training and exposure to best practices; ensure an adherence to good corporate governance; foster an environment of harmony between the two unions and the corporation; pass a new WSC Act so that WSC falls within the scope of URCA and no longer is both operator and regulator; move the corporation towards profitability and seeing a reduction in the government subsidy as a result; among many other sound and/or new business/people-oriented approaches.
“We want to ensure a transformation of the corporation, with staff development being a central theme. The aforementioned are merely a short overview of the many plans on the horizon.”
Regarding Mr Laville’s threat of taking court action, Mr Gibson said: “I note from this morning’s paper that Mr Laville has indicated that he will be instituting proceedings. In the circumstances, it is obvious that the matter will be adjudicated and all issues properly ventilated in either the tribunal or the Supreme Court. Given the circumstances, we will not be making any further comments in connection with this matter.”
Mr Laville’s firing has been a notable climax to this situation.
Last Wednesday, the report, which was laid on the table, painted a damning picture of WSC, portraying a corporation awash with irregularities.
In particular, the debacle of the Gladstone Road Waste Water Treatment Plant (GRWWTP) was exposed. Despite a budget overrun of more than 80 per cent, not since September 2016 has work been performed on the incomplete project, which was expected to receive and treat waste water from Baha Mar and return it for irrigation purposes.
Senior WSC officials were alarmed by how the project had gone off the rails, with former Chairman Leslie Miller saying in a 2016 WSC board meeting that the project had not been publicly declared “a stinker” only because it was “out of sight”.
“If this was out there like the (government) building next to the Paul Adderley (building) this would have been a headline long time,” he said. “God only bless us it is behind God’s back and you cannot see it.”
The plant, initially budgeted at $9.6m with a completion date of 2014, has cost taxpayers at least $17m so far, EY said.
Mr Gibson has said the EY report would be sent to police.
Investigators identified Merlene Poitier as one of the shareholders in the contracting company for the GRWWTP project, Nassau Island Development. EY reported that she works in the law firm of Progressive Liberal Party leader Phillip “Brave” Davis. She is a secretary there. The company’s other shareholder is identified as Anthony L Ferguson.
As he tabled the report, Mr Gibson said NID appeared to have an “angel” on its side.
He said notwithstanding the recommendations from the then board, management and consultants to terminate NID’s contract and/or not make any additional payments, countless board minutes and emails show that the recommendations were “overruled”; that there were “external influences and manipulation”; that they were able to “evade termination.”
In one instance in 2014, former WSC Chairman Lester Cox ordered the WSC to “make an advance payment” of $1.2m to NID.
But EY said WSC management resisted and explained the amount the contractor had been paid to date was substantially more than what was reflected in the construction progress.
Mr Cox, in various emails, appeared irritated that senior officials questioned the requests.
In one email to Mr Laville he said: “We sat in the meeting at 10am with the JV and I am amazed that we are still discussing while the project is at a standstill. Maybe I did not make the minister’s request clear so I repeat. FACILITATE THE PAYMENT so that this project can come to a completion.”
The report does not specify what minister Mr Cox was referring to, but Mr Davis was the minister of works with responsibility for WSC at the time.
Mr Davis, the former deputy prime minister, has refuted much of the audit’s claims and has said it was nothing more than a witch hunt.
He has also insisted auditors did not speak with him on the issues outlined in the report and admitted his secretary was a nominee shareholder of NID, adding the post did not have any financial gain attached to it.