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Rowley outraged

By Newsday Staff Thursday, December 15 2011

click on pic to zoom in
Keith Rowley...
Keith Rowley...

TWO days after the Opposition expressed concerns about the appointment of Ganga Singh as acting chief executive officer (CEO), the WASA Board yesterday announced Singh has actually been the substantive CEO since October, to the chagrin of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

The news of Singh’s appointment came in a WASA statement titled, “Mr Ganga Singh appointed as Chief Executive Officer” issued yesterday by someone on behalf of WASA corporate communications general manager, Ellen Lewis.

“Water and Sewerage Authority wishes to advise that Mr Ganga Singh was unanimously appointed by the Board of Commissioners as the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, with effect from October 1st, 2011. The appointment was recommended by the Human Resources Committee of the Board in September 2011 and subsequently approved by the Board,” said the statement.

It added, “The Board took the opportunity to observe and evaluate the performance of Mr Singh in the capacity of Acting Chief Executive Officer for nine (9) months prior to his appointment. Based on this evaluation, the Board offered the position of Chief Executive Officer to Mr Singh for a three year (3) period.”

Line Minister for WASA, Minister of Public Utilities, Emmanuel George, yesterday refused to answer Newsday’s queries about the appointment.

George, when asked by Newsday whether Singh is a suitable person to head WASA, said he is due to reply in the Senate to a listed question from Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds, and so it would be “wrong” to talk to Newsday beforehand.

Newsday tried to ask George another question, about the recruitment process for a WASA CEO, but George said he could not talk to Newsday as he was standing in a line at a buffet table at a function, trying to talk to catering staff to order a meal.

Newsday called WASA’s headquarters at St Joseph, only to be told Singh was not in office.

Yesterday, Rowley, in a statement, hit the appointment of Singh as WASA CEO and called on the Prime Minister, George and the WASA Board to immediately rescind this position and carry out an open, transparent and competitive process to find another CEO.

“(Singh) was used to replace the properly hired CEO who had been appointed only a few months earlier through a transparent process of selection only after local and international advertisements were utilised,” Rowley alleged.

It was unclear if Rowley was referring to Singh’s predecessor Englishman Andrew Smith, who was appointed under the PNM administration in April 2010 but resigned in July, two months after the People’s Partnership won the general election in May, or was suggesting that someone had been recently appointed CEO. Singh was appointed acting CEO in July 2010, after Smith stepped down.

Rowley related George’s past assurances that Singh’s appointment had been only of an interim nature, and George’s firm commitment to Parliament that when a new WASA Board is appointed, a CEO would be sought by a transparent and competitive process. “Subsequent to this commitment the new Board was appointed in December 2010. After one (1) year of failing to keep his commitment to the Parliament, we are now told that, with total disregard for the openness and transparency promised by the Minister, the Board has rubber-stamped the initial inappropriate wishes of the Minister,” Rowley hit.

“What is even more disgraceful on the part of the Minister of Public Utilities is that this matter of Ganga Singh’s protracted improper acting appointment came up in the Parliament recently, on Friday, December 9, 2011, and the Minister, even though he was questioned, hid from the Parliament, the fact that Singh had already been secretly confirmed and appointed by the Board since October 2011.”Rowley alleged that George had deliberately let the country be misled, with his silence causing one newspaper to print an editorial lamenting what it was allowed to erroneously believe to be Singh’s acting appointment.

The Opposition Leader alleged a “cosy relationship” between Singh and George, the latter who had once been permanent secretary to the former.

He compared Singh’s appointment to the hiring of Susan Francois as head of Financial Intelligence Unit. Francois’ was at first an acting appointment but has been granted an extension in the position on a prime ministerial veto even though the Public Service Commission had chosen someone to fill the substantive post.

Rowley recalled that on November 24, 2010, George had replied to a question in the Lower House by saying the WASA Board would, “pursue arrangements for the recruitment of a CEO using a fair, open and transparent procedure”.

Rowley said, “This has not happened...The Opposition views this as a disturbing act and a continuation of the shady arrangements which marked the period 1996-2001”, referring to the UNC’s term in office when Singh was the WASA line minister and when the Desalcott desalination plant was constructed.

Last Monday, Opposition Senator Terence Deyalsingh expressed strong concerns in the Upper House as to Singh’s suitability to head WASA, alleging unanswered questions about Desalcott. Deyalsingh had raised the issue of Singh’s then acting position in the Senate during a Government motion to raise water-rates at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.

Deyalsingh had said, “The fact is that he is not only an acting CEO, he is an acting CEO who was a major actor, a major player, in the same corruption allegations which we are speaking about with Desalcott.”

He said the then Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj had hired Canadian investigator, Bob Lindquist to do a forensic audit but nothing has been proven either way.

Although Lindquist had complied a report on Desalcott, it has never been disclosed if his recommendations included a probe of Singh’s role in the deal.

Corruption charges on the desalination project were brought against Hafeez Kharamath, a partner in a joint venture with international stakeholders which built the Desalcott plant at Pt Lisas Industrial Estate, and Israelis Joseph Ben Dak and Daniel Hoffman.

The Israelis never returned to Trinidad to face the charges. The case was dismissed with Karamath’s death last year.

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