CITIZENS should not be forced to pay drastically higher rates reportedly proposed by the debt-saddled TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC) to compensate for the State's failure to pay its bills, says Princes Town MP Barry Padarath.
Earlier this year, T&TEC presented the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) with a draft business plan for 2022-2027, proposing increases in residential and commercial electricity rates by as much as 134 per cent over a five-year period.
On Sunday, Padarath, the shadow utilities minister, accused the government of "driving T&TEC to the ground" as its largest debtor.
"(In estimates of recurrent expenditure) you will notice that in almost every ministry and state enterprise over the past seven years, millions of dollars are outstanding in payments to TTEC by the State," Padarath said at the Opposition's press briefing in Port of Spain, on Sunday.
"And, therefore, the biggest debt-owers to T&TEC is the State ... today $2 billion is owed to NGC (National Gas Company) because TTEC has millions owed to them by the State.
"(Playing) smart with foolishness will (not) dispute the fact that the reason T&TEC cannot pay its bills to NGC today is because of the State."
He also accused the RIC – an independent body responsible for reviewing rates and service for utilities, including electricity and water – for failing to act on all of its mandates, such as the hosting of public consultations.
"(When) you look under the RIC and how much money has been budgeted for the hosting of conferences, etcetera – which will encompass these public consultations – government has budgeted zero. Under the line item for public consultations is 'zero'."
Padarath further questioned the independence of the RIC, suggesting political appointees can be manipulated.
"Let us make this clear: the government will give you the impression that the RIC is supposed to independent," he said.
"Well, they are supposed to be independent, but we saw what else happened with the Police Service Commission. (The government) determines who are the directors that sit on the RIC. They inform the policy in terms of what the RIC will look at and in terms of the criteria that they will use to determine the rates.
"So again let's not play smart with foolishness and say that these people are really independent; they are the implementing arm of the State, being directed by the Cabinet."
Padarath said the government also needs to clarify whether the government plans to remove subsidies from NGC's natural gas supply to T&TEC as that will determine the RIC's decisions affecting rates.
A considerable amount of T&TEC's $2 billion debt is owed to the NGC, whose natural gas T&TEC relies on to produce power.
Padarath said the government has also damaged the relationship between NGC and T&TEC.
"When the People's Partnership was in government we ensured that that relationship between NGC and T&TEC was not allowed to get out of hand and, therefore, T&TEC was always able to pay its bills to NGC for the supply of natural gas.
"What we've seen happening in the past seven years is that $2 billion debt that has been racked up by T&TEC is because they are, in fact, not paying their bills to NGC."
The proposed rates are: Between 40 to 65.75 per cent in the price of electricity over the five-year period for residential customers; An increase of 128.5 per cent for commercial and industrial customers; an increase of 134 per cent for street lighting and recreation grounds; along with new fees.
With respect to citizens paying higher rates, Padarath said, "What you will have happening is that people will be unable to sustain themselves.
"This is against the backdrop of massive unemployment in this country, where cost of living is so high."
Newsday spoke with T&TEC general manager Kelvin Ramsook by phone on Sunday. He said he was unable to address concerns over rates, since the matter was before the RIC. Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales also could not be reached.