By SASHA HARRINANAN
The Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) wants more authority to enforce better standards of service from utility companies to the public.
This was the response of RIC chairman Hyacinth Guy when asked if its regulatory framework sufficiently empowers the commission or if it is "a bulldog without teeth."
The question came from Ian Roach, chairman of Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities.
The RIC currently has under its purview, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), the TT Electricity Commission (TTEC), the Power Generation Company of TT Ltd (PowerGen) and Trinity Power Ltd, formerly InnCogen Ltd.
Appearing before the JSC last Friday, Guy said while the RIC has the requisite powers to conduct rate reviews, the same cannot be said for quality of service standards.
"The RIC could have more power in terms of being able to have the utilities provide a better service because when we do a rate review, we factor in the quality of service standards. We want you to provide service at a particular standard."
"If there is no enforcement, in terms of providing that standard, then there is the tendency of the utility to fall back on old practices. So yes, there could be more in the legislative framework for the RIC to enforce better standards of service from utilities to the public."
Asked by Roach if this would include sanctions and penalties, Guy replied, "Sanctions, penalties, fines, et cetera. We don't have those, no."
RIC executive director James Lee Young said while TTEC customers have a form of redress for issues such as brown outs, late billing and late connections, WASA customers do not.
"Those have been on the drawing board for many years. We have, again, (held) a public consultation and consultation with all the interested stakeholders and developed quality of service standards for WASA. They are currently on our website and Facebook page and are currently with the Ministry of Public Utilities (MPU) for gazetting. Once those are gazetted, they come into effect."
The JSC also heard from the RIC's legal/corporate secretary Nadia John, who provided a list of recommendations on how the RIC Act of 1998 should be amended to give the commission more enforcement power.
"We're looking at broadening the scope of investigation of our complaints, we're looking at the issue of the authority to determine the outcomes of those complaints and we're looking at the issuance and the ability to issue regulatory instruments for consumer protection."
"We would also like to have the authority to use our broader discretion to investigate matters. We are looking at the authority to enforce decisions with respect to consumer protection and we're also looking at the mechanism for appeals," John said.
Another issue raised was that PowerGen and TTEC are currently the only two power generation companies under the RIC's purview.
Lee Young said the RIC wants to add "a number of utilities" to that list. He specifically named the Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU) power plant in La Brea, the Desalination Company of TT Ltd (DesalcoTT) in Pt Lisas and the Seven Seas Water Desalination Facility in Pt Fortin.
MPU's Legal Services Director Anika Sarah Farmer said this has not been done yet because the Act specifically states that entities in existence at the time of the RIC coming into being are deemed to be licensed.
"So any under entity that comes under it (after that) must be actually given a license. We will be commencing the discussions on the establishment of the framework with RIC after Carnival, mid-February, and we hope to bring those amendments to Parliament within this fiscal year."
While the licence is issued by the Public Utilities Minister, this is done based on the RIC's advice.
Farmer noted the RIC has to provide advice on the establishment of the licensing framework, including, "what the form of the license would be, advice on the fees, conditions on which one can cancel a license, vary a license, suspend a license."
Asked by Roach to put that in plain English for all to understand, Farmer said, "The situation is that we have to work out the licensing framework – both the RIC and the ministry."
Farmer then reiterated that both parties will commence work on this very soon.