By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
WATER and Sewerage Corporation executive chairman Adrian Gibson announced yesterday he has instructed his attorney Ferron Bethell to sue Dwayne Woods for defamation given recent “untrue” statements the union leader made about him.
“Let me note that you would see the presence of Mr Bethell,” Mr Gibson said at a press conference. “Myself and the general manager have instructed Mr Bethell to take out suit against Mr Woods for defamation of character, given his statements that are far-fetched, entirely untrue, to which he has no proof.”
Earlier yesterday, Mr Gibson doubled down on accusations that workers at the utility provider illegally shut off water supply to parts of New Providence and sabotaged WSC property.
Mr Gibson told the House of Assembly that any employee found to have tampered with the water supply will be “summarily dismissed and referred to the police”.
His accusations are the latest in a brewing battle between WSC executives and union leaders at the organisation about operations at the water provider.
Meanwhile, Mr Woods, Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) president, said yesterday his union did not condone sabotage.
Following Tuesday night’s shutdown, members of WSC’s two unions demonstrated outside Parliament chanting “Adrian’s got to go” as they reiterated their calls for the Long Island Member of Parliament to be removed from his post.
Mr Gibson’s statements in Parliament sparked a back and forth between himself, Official Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
Mr Davis accused Mr Gibson of being controversial and “adding to the fire” of the dispute. Meanwhile, Dr Minnis defended Mr Gibson, saying the Long Island MP has the “full support of the government”.
On Tuesday, members of both BUSAWU and the Water & Sewerage Management Union’s (WSMU) president demonstrated outside WSC headquarters in what was termed a “withdrawal of enthusiasm”. They decried what they deemed the unfair suspension of an employee for five days without pay.
During his address, Mr Gibson said: “Mr Speaker, after an illegal strike action yesterday and today, certain persons, intimately familiar with the workings at the (WSC) have engaged in an illegal shutdown of the water supply in various parts of NP. And as I sat here a moment ago, it was reported that the sewer network was also tampered with as there were lift station overflows at Arawak Cay, Chippingham sewer station as well as Pinewood Gardens.
“Mr Speaker throughout the night, pressure regulating valve alarms were going off across New Providence. This indicated that pressure regulating valves were being shut off throughout the island and in a concerted and intentional effort to disrupt the water supply. Additionally, persons threw stones and rocks into the valves to cause irreparable damage, major costs to WSC, and untold hardship to our customers.”
Mr Gibson listed the areas affected, adding they equated to “pretty much the entire island”.
Noting the country was “tremendously inconvenienced by this wanton disruption of a necessary amenity,” Mr Gibson said WSC has mobilised emergency teams to travel to various sites and restore the supply.
“Mr Speaker, these malicious acts of sabotage criminality (in a) sick effort to terrorise and inflict hardship upon Bahamians and residents come on the heels of condemnable and incendiary utterances made elsewhere.”
Mr Gibson also said WSC camera footage from Monday night revealed a truck “familiar to managers and staff” entering the compound’s back gate. He said the truck stayed for two to three minutes and the driver chained the gate and knocked out a camera. He added police are involved in the matter.
Mr Davis pointed out Mr Gibson’s remarks are “one side of a story”, adding if the police are investigating, “it’s akin to matters being subjudice”.
To this, Dr Minnis defended Mr Gibson’s responsibility to report to the nation what happened to the water supply.
As Mr Gibson finished his remarks, he called upon “all right-thinking Bahamians to condemn the disparaging, sexist remarks made about women at the corporation and their upward mobility”, referring to allegations made by union members during Tuesday’s press conference.
“These remarks are disgraceful, reckless, and entirely unacceptable,” Mr Gibson said.
Underscoring that Tuesday’s demonstration was an “illegal strike to which there was no strike vote and no strike certificate,” Mr Gibson added: “Notably, between both unions out of an employee complement of nearly 440, only about 50 plus persons—a little over 10 percent—participated in those actions.
“Any employee found to have tampered with the water supply will be summarily dismissed and referred to the police,” he said. “This type of behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Following Mr Gibson’s remarks, Mr Davis noted the issues currently occurring within the corporation are a “result of industrial disputes that have been allowed to fester and fester”.
Mr Davis added: “And so the question has to be asked is why and how these issues have been allowed to bubble to the point where the allegations are now that employees are engaged in such conduct that is not healthy to anyone?”
As he called for Dr Minnis to get involved, the prime minister replied that he is involved.
“The member has the complete support of the government. We will not and we will not condone or accept any misbehaviour or sabotage to government equipment, materials, and such. And subsequently interfere with the quality of life of Bahamians.”
Speaking about the matter outside Parliament, Mr Woods told The Tribune his union does not condone wrongdoing. Because a private company monitors the equipment, Mr Woods said officials should have known “almost instaneously” that an issue was occurring.
“What we also saying is that our members, I don’t think would carry out such an act. And it definitely didn’t come from the head of this union,” Mr Woods said. “What we are also saying is that if Mr Gibson has the proof that he claims he has, then we will partner with him and the police to bring the culprits to justice.”