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Monday 20 November 2017
Letters to the Editor

Minister, replace RIC with new mechanism

THE EDITOR: Open letter to Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte.

I could not help paying attention to your contribution to the debate on the 2017-2018 budget, not so much as your being an experienced banker and your “crossing swords” with the former Governor of the Central Bank, but more especially in respect of the path which you said you intended to follow as Minister of Public Utilities.

Indeed, I was impressed at the robustness of your delivery and express the hope that time will see the policy objectives which you expounded brought to fruition and to not remain a pipe dream reminiscent of “water for all by the year 2000” as promised by one of your predecessors.

We are now well past that milestone.

One of the disappointments in the management of the public utilities sector (as obtains in so many State entities) has been its overdependence on the Treasury — a misunderstanding of what use of the term “public” is meant to convey. A look at the statutes erecting these utilities will reveal that, while they may be permitted, from time to time, to seek the assistance of the Treasury in meeting a shortfall in revenues vis-a-vis their expenditure, it has never been the intention that this ought to be a permanent position.

Indeed, it should be noted that, both in the literature and in practice, public utilities are described as “businesses affected with a public interest.” In fact they are first and foremost “businesses,” although the rating structures may be so constructed as to allow, from time to time, a certain degree of “cross-subsidisation” among customer classes in their quests to attain a break-even position, while also aiming to effect an expansion of the services demanded.

It is in the circumstances enunciated that I direct your attention to the failure of our established regulatory mechanism to ensure that our utilities meet the “classic” financial requirements of a well-ordered public utilities sector by entities being enabled to stand on their own without having to go cap in hand to the Minister of Finance.

Here I refer to the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC), a body which was intended to remedy the major ill of its predecessor, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the tribunal procedures of which had inhibited it to act expeditiously on account of the “legal ramifications of a matter.”

It should be noted that the PUC had five bodies under its jurisdiction — TTEC, WASA, TSTT, the Port Authority and the PTSC — as opposed to two assigned to the RIC — TTEC and WASA. Nevertheless, the PUC was able to make several path-breaking orders such as its Order No 54 in April 1986 in respect of WASA, the recommendations of which included a proposed metering programme. This I humbly commend to your attention.

It is to be noted that the RIC has not, since the enabling legislation was assented to in October 1998, been able to deliver one single substantive order. It is therefore incumbent on you to seek out the cause.

Finally, those in the know will be aware of the source of the authority with which I address you. You should seek to replace the RIC with a mechanism which would meet the circumstances of TT well and expeditiously.

ERROL OC CUPID, Tacarigua

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