WASA commissioner denies any conflict of interest over firm’s advisory work

One of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) board members, Alston Fournillier, has distanced himself from his company A&L Estate Management Consultancy Limited, saying he is no longer a decision-maker within the company or related to requests made through the company to WASA since he was appointed commissioner in March.

The company, which primarily deals with plumbing, would typically oversee private developments and sewage development at multiple locations and then submit applications for approval to WASA.

Usually, the public entity ensures that all drawings submitted to WASA comply with the stipulated guidelines, and if they are not, they will make various recommendations to ensure that the sites comply with all the requirements.

Guardian Media obtained an insider list showing that there were multiple requests made by Fournillier for multiple clients to WASA.

We have asked Fournillier for clarification on the transaction since he now sits on the board of directors and this could appear to be a conflict of interest.

But Fournillier answered a series of questions sent by this journalist saying that there was no conflict of interest and that he had nothing to hide.

He said that on March 11 this year, a day after he was appointed commissioner, the company wrote to WASA’s director, Shamika Cudjoe-Lewis, informing him that he would no longer be representing A&L Management Consultancy Limited with immediate effect regarding any business with WAS ONE.

The letter, which he attached as part of his responses to questions, further stated: ‘In addition, please note that all pending applications will continue to be handled by Jason Welch, an employee of A&L Estate Management Limited , while all other applications will be submitted under the supervision of a competent licensed sanitary builder appointed by A&L Estate Management Consultancy Limited.

And although Fournillier admitted he was not involved in any of the current applications, a senior source said a recent application had been vetted by Fournillier and submitted by A&L Estate Management Consultancy Limited.

The document obtained by Guardian Media says it was verified by Fournillier on March 21, 2022.

We sent the document to Fournillier for response. He did not respond before press time.

Fournillier, who also resigned as president of the Trinidad and Tobago Plumbers Association, said that before becoming a commissioner as a licensed sanitary builder for more than 22 years, he “submitted numerous requests to the authority. It is interesting to note that the attached list is devoid of any date. If there were dates stamped on the list provided, it would have been clear that almost all of these applications have been submitted and closed before the date of my appointment, some of them going back ten years.”

Fournillier was further pressed when Guardian Media asked how many nominations had been approved before he was installed on the WASA board of commissioners.

He said the majority were long-standing applications that had been approved prior to his appointment and said “only five that I recognize as currently awaiting approval for my former clients. Please note that I am no longer involved with these pending requests, which are now being tracked by other licensed sanitary builders.

Fournillier dismissed any notion of conflict of interest with the applications that are still pending approval.

WASA Headquarters in St Joseph, Trinidad.

WASA Headquarters in St Joseph, Trinidad.

“There is no conflict of interest as neither the board nor I endorse the nominations. Applications are received by the authority and are processed and approved by the New Services Department. The Board of Directors is not involved in this process.

Fournillier was questioned whether he knew of the law on integrity in public life and whether anyone was using his position for profit or using his influence and whether he felt that the case concerned him at this time. -there might seem to be such.

He insisted: “I did not use my position as commissioner (sic) to obtain preferential treatment. I have been appointed Chair of the New Services Committee, which is a new sub-committee of the Board of Directors, due to my knowledge and experience of interacting with the New Services Department. There are no other current Commissioners with this skill set. At the time of the Board’s appointment, new services were one of many areas of the Authority that needed to be resolved due to numerous inefficiencies, which resulted in a large number of outstanding requests, which affected members from the public as they were without their final decision. development approval and completions that have hindered their water connections. Using my expertise, the New Services Committee developed a procedure to address the many inefficiencies that existed within the New Services department. This procedure was submitted to the Board and approved for implementation. These procedures are being implemented and are already having a positive impact on the new services. The procedures are implemented by the New Services Department. The role I play and report to the Board is to ensure that procedures are implemented so that inefficiencies can be corrected. As a member of the board of directors, I am not involved in the daily management of the department. However, like many of my colleagues on the Board, due to the weaknesses that currently exist within the Authority, there is a need for ministry oversight to ensure the policy is implemented. In this regard, I interact with the manager of the department to ensure that the council’s instructions are carried out. Lack of implementation of Council directives was one of the main reasons why former executives were replaced, following which we have seen improvements in the performance of the Authority. But there is still a lot of work to do. »

Fournillier was also asked if he was related to Public Services Minister Marvin Gonzales and he replied: “The Honorable Minister Marvin Gonzales and I are from the beautiful community of Paramin. It is a well-known fact that almost everyone in the community is connected in some way given the culture and history of the beautiful, tight-knit community. After my research, we may be 5th or 6th generation distant relatives.

Minister responds to concerns

Guardian Media has sent in three questions regarding Fournillier and these are Minister Marvin Gonzales’ responses to the allegations.

Q: Were you aware of the concerns raised by WASA officials within the organization who expressed concern that although Mr Fournillier had relinquished his authority to represent A&L Management Consultancy Limited, he could possibly influence his company to have the pending applications approved by WASA’s press services department?

A: I don’t know of any such “concerns”. I am aware that there is a backlog of approximately 5,000 blocked applications within the New Services Division and that several people have reported having to pay bribes to have their applications processed. I am also aware that reports have begun to surface of an attempt by WASA insiders to smear and destroy the character of Commissioner Fournillier while he was in charge of leading a board committee tasked with to address the backlog of applications and make recommendations for the transformation of the New Services Division. Board members are responsible for processing applications and no applications are sent to the board or its sub-committees for approval in my understanding of the process. Thus, the alleged concerns about possible influence are far-fetched and unfounded. I see the game being played and I know the accusations made to tarnish his irreproachable character.

Does this potentially put other companies with pending applications at risk of being sidelined for A&L Estate Management Consultancy Ltd? Or are their applications deferred for a while?

A: In response to your 2nd question, I refer you to my first answer and dare say that it is a figment of the imagination to create a diabolical narrative to destroy the character and professional reputation of a commissioner.

Q: Mr. Fournillier said that you both grew up in Paramin and described you as a distant relative. Was this a factor in his selection to the current WASA Board of Commissioners?

A: Mr. Fournillier was born and raised in Paramin just as I was born and raised in this community. Almost everyone in this close-knit community is connected in some way. I am told that we are a distant relative and that may be a possibility. He was chosen to be Commissioner because of his experience and skills and the value he would bring to the Board and, by extension, to the country as we seek to transform the Authority. Being a 5th or 6th generation parent due to coming from the same community is not a legal consideration.