Dec. 28, 2004 – An investigative report released this month by Steven van Beverhoudt, the V.I. inspector general, charges that many St. Croix residents are stealing power and water from the Water and Power Authority, and that WAPA employees are helping them do it.
In a letter to Daryl Lynch, chairman of the governing board of WAPA, van Beverhoudt wrote, "There are significant revenue losses on St. Croix due to theft of services by both individual homeowners, renters and by businesses. However, the theft of services is permitted, allowed, encouraged, and facilitated by WAPA personnel."
In the next paragraph he stated, "WAPA employees make unauthorized installations. Line personnel allow thefts of electricity and water. Indeed, they facilitate thefts and they themselves steal WAPA property because there is a severe lack of proper supervision."
The only item that could be termed good news in the 53-page report commissioned by WAPA is the fact that when WAPA's Employee Rewards Program was increased from $10 to $100 per reported tampering, there was a substantial increase in reports of those pilfering utility services. However, investigators even have a question about that: Why were the thieves not turned in earlier?
The report goes into details of incidents uncovered over several months during the investigation.
Van Beverhoudt also offered his opinion on how the thefts were allowed to happen. He wrote, "The lack of proper supervision is directly traceable to the lack of proper management, and the lack of proper management is the result of a lack of proper administration at the highest levels of the WAPA organization."
Included is a 12-page response to the audit report by Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of WAPA. Bruno-Vega expressed appreciation to van Beverhoudt and his staff for their work. He said WAPA did not take exception to the recommendations in the report. However, he said he was disappointed with its overall tone.
He wrote, "The report goes so far as to state that WAPA management allows and encourages unethical practices and procedures that promote theft of WAPA's services and property. As a member of WAPA management, and on behalf of the many hardworking, loyal and dedicated members of management, I wish to assure you that theft of WAPA's services and property [is] not encouraged nor condoned."
These differences aside, it appears the investigation was carried on in a cooperative manner. The introduction to the report says that Bruno-Vega was available to investigators on all occasions.
Bruno-Vega also arranged for a St. Croix engineer familiar with suspect meters to work with the investigators.
Two other WAPA employees were commended for their competence and help in the investigation. However, one manager was asked to no longer take part in the investigation because he might have "intentionally compromised it."
WAPA had originally approached the inspector general's office in April 2002 and asked it to investigate why WAPA had such a high rate of line loss — 15 percent, well over the national average, an estimated $3 million per year.
Van Beverhoudt agreed to do the investigations on two conditions. WAPA had to prepay for it and investigators had to be permitted freedom to go in whichever directions the investigation led.
WAPA balked at paying up front and the deal fell through.
However, Bruno-Vega was made executive director at the beginning of 2003, and he renewed the effort to initiate the investigation. In April 2003, an agreement was signed
The introduction to the report, which has a cover letter dated Dec. 13, 2004, concludes:
"There is a subculture within WAPA that believes it is acceptable to take water, electricity, and property belonging to WAPA and to facilitate and cooperate with individuals and businesses in the community who do not want to pay for the utility services WAPA provides."
One of the most egregious cases of tampering with a water meter, detailed in the report, showed a WAPA worker getting no help from above as he tried to enforce compliance after finding a water meter by-passed. The report documents the employee as noting, "This is the fourth tampering by consumer at his premises. This consumer is a [law enforcement officer] that is supposed to uphold the law and he's the biggest thief and has no regard or respect to this Authority."
The report said there were seven reasons for electrical loss. They were ordinary wear and tear, end-user tampering, employee-associated tampering, unlicenced-electrician tampering, WAPA employee cooperation with unlicenced electricians, WAPA's failure to keep appointments and WAPA's general failure to manage.
In the end-user tampering section came the investigation of gas stations. Five of the first six gas stations inspected were found to have altered meters. None of the meters in the last 18 stations were found to be altered. Investigators concluded that word got out that investigators were coming around.
The investigators don't fault the meter readers in these incidences of tampering, because the tampering was done internally in the meters, but the investigators do say that WAPA's Audit Control Unit should have noticed the under-usage.
Investigators also wondered why a grocery store in Christiansted was getting away with paying about $2,000 a month less than it should. This particular investigation was stymied when inspectors went to take a second look and photograph the suspect meter only to find a WAPA employee had corrected everything that was out of the ordinary.
In this and many other cases, the inspectors fault WAPA with not following through with criminal charges or attempting to collect back bills.
One of the oddest stories in the report is about a WAPA employee assigned to Revenue Protection who apparently conducted surveillance on the investigators for three days. This was the same individual who corrected the problems at the grocery store. Investigators wondered why this individual had so much free time on his hands and why he did not just ask the investigators what they were doing.
After a while the report starts to have a theme, as it reports on security lights installed by crews who get paid though WAPA doesn't, of lines being spliced by WAPA's special tools to give a resident free power, and of lines hooked up to what are referred to as temporary construction sites although any WAPA worker passing by one would know it was not temporary.
The report reaches a climax with a report of evidence of tampering found at a WAPA manager's residence.
In cases where meter tampering was found previously an immediate disconnect order was issued and a fee for tampering and reconnecting was assessed. Those orders were initiated in this case, but, according to the report, they were over-ridden by Bruno-Vega.
On this same manager's property investigators found a utility pole with a security light attached to it. WAPA has no record of selling this pole or authorizing its installation. Nor does the company have a record of collecting any monthly electrical bill for the light.
This same unnamed manager popped back up in the section on Unlicenced WAPA Employee Tampering. The report stated this employee wired two buildings for the V.I. Police Department one on Recovery Hill and one in Frederiksted.
If all this were not bad enough, the report goes on to say WAPA's poor service forces contractors to do work they are not licenced to do or to pay WAPA employees on the side to do WAPA work. The report said WAPA employees actually get paid by contractors to do work while they are supposedly working for WAPA. Sometimes that work would involve a fee to WAPA, but that fee is not paid.
The report includes several pages detailing WAPA's customer service problems. It says work is done at employees' convenience not the customers'.
In the end the report lists 27 recommendations.
-Pursuing all suspected meter tamp
erings to the fullest extent of the law.
-Resealing all meters on St. Croix.
-Firing employees involved in unethical behavior.
-Taking action against the manager who had a meter bypass at his residence.
-Making it a job requirement that employees report suspected incidents of theft.
-Reviewing tampering records concerning gas stations and residential homes, referring them for criminal action and providing for training of employees which will help instill an honest work ethic.
In his concluding remarks in the report van Beverhoudt said, "We agree that there are many 'hard-working, loyal and dedicated' managers at WAPA. In fact, we believe that there are many 'hard-working, loyal and dedicated' supervisors and employees at WAPA also. However, unfortunately, as in most situations, the misdeeds of a few tarnish the entire organization. Ultimately, it is WAPA's management's responsibility to ensure the effective and efficient operation of the organization."
WAPA's response said that many of the report's recommendations are already being implemented, but others would need board approval.
Here is the entire WAPA Audit
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