A Bon Accord resident has urged the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) to revisit its plan to increase electricity rates for residential and commercial customers.
Lucille George-Percy claimed many Tobagonians are already struggling to make ends meet and an increase in their electricity bill would create more poverty in communities.
She was speaking on Monday during the open forum of the RIC’s electricity transmission and distribution determination price control review at the Canaan/Bon Accord Multipurpose Facility. It was the RIC’s third public consultation.
Questioning the timing of the proposed increases, George-Percy asked RIC chairman Dawn Callender and executive director Glenn Khan, “I want to know whether Dr Rowley (Prime Minister) or the Public Utilities Minister (Marvin Gonzales) is pushing this thing?”
She described as unconscionable the decision to increase utility rates when many people have not received salary increases in years.
“When last we get a raise of pay? Tell me. We got raise of pay in 2014. Here what raise: T&TEC raise dey price, Digicel gone up, they coming with land (property) tax to go up. And all of that will be coming to us.”
George-Percy added, “What happen to the poor man? What is left in our pockets for food. That is what we have to consider.”
She said the RIC, instead of placing an additional financial burden on ordinary citizens, should have focused its attention on the Government.
“You want to increase the capacity of what you have for electricity, the Government owing T&TEC millions of dollars, why allyuh not coming down on the Government?”
George-Percy said she currently has four unpaid electricity bills at her home, all of which are $2,000 or more.
“That could not be right for anybody, to pay $2,000 a month.”
She also wondered if there was a plan in place to replace appliances that are damaged as a result of electricity surges.
Khan, in response, told the audience there are currently 235,451 residential customers using 889kw every two months and their bill is about $300.
“That is one half of T&TEC’s customer base so when you are talking about people can’t afford, these are the numbers you have to consider,” he said, adding those customers qualify for a 35 per cent rebate on their bill.
Saying he could not understand why her bill is so high, Khan urged George-Percy to get an electrician to check out her network.
RIC: Initial proposal was 'extremely high'
In another contribution, Andre Baker asked RIC officials to respond to the view that the consultations were a waste of time because the decision to increase the rates has already been taken.
Callender said an increase in electricity rates was inevitable given the fact that the last one was 11 years ago. She said ageing equipment was one of the reasons why the existing rates could not continue.
“We know that they are seeing certain cracks as I call it in T&TEC’s service, and there is an expectation of good service. Given that the last price increase was 11 years ago, T&TEC is not going to be able to deliver the same level of service because in that 11 years, equipment would have deteriorated a bit.”
In arriving at the new rates, Callender said, the commission considered many factors, including the rising cost of living and the war in Ukraine.
But she said the increases the commission had initially proposed were more exorbitant
“When we did the first computation, there would be more uproar because those numbers were extremely high. By taking those things into account, we did a lot of evaluation to come to a rate we think is more acceptable at this point in time because we know we want to improve the service.”
Callender urged citizens to voice their opinions freely at the consultations so that the commission can come up with a final determination on electricity rates.
“I am very hopeful that as we go up and down that we could have sufficient input that we can go and reconsider.”
Callender said she has already taken on board at least three suggestions that she has heard.
This story was originally published with the title "Tobago community activist says: RIC public consultations, a farce" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
A Community activist has described as a “farce,” the Regulated Industries Commission’s (RICs) public consultations on its proposed new electricity rates.
Addressing a consultation about the issue on Monday at the Canaan/Bon Accord Multipurpose Facility, Lyndon Mack claimed there is a general feeling among residents that the commission has already made a determination on its proposed rates.
“At this point in time, what you are hearing here from residents are the belief that you have already made a final determination,” he said during the question and answer segment.
“You see in Trinidad and Tobago, we do things very backward. We come to residents for the very first time. This is the very first time I am hearing that your commission exists, because residents in Tobago don’t know about you. We have never ever heard about you.”
Mack claimed Tobagonians are experiencing all sorts of problems as a result of actions undertaken by the RIC.
“We have residents in Tobago here, apart from building issues, have problems with land issues, with poles being placed on to their lands. These are the things I see on social media every single day as a resident. I have business people complaining about you based on your inefficient methods.”
He said his concern was not really about the consultation but the process that was used.
“My concern is the process when you say to residents consult when you have already made a determination. And then you come to residents as a farce to say, we are consulting you.”
Mack continued, “The purpose of this exercise is that before you make a determination, you hear the feedback from every resident. This (attendees at the consultation) is not even one per cent of the residents of Bon Accord and Canaan, much less Tobago West.
“So even if a determination is supposed to be made, the question really is supposed to be how many residents have you actively consulted and invited to these consultations before you have made a final determination?”
RIC executive director Glenn Khan said he was taken aback by Mack’s claim that Tobagonians did not know about the organisation.
He said, “Before covid hit, our customer service people used to come to Tobago regularly to listen to people’s complaints so when you say that you never heard of us, I can’t say why.”
Mack responded, “This is the problem. We should we should not be having people coming from Trinidad to Tobago to see about Tobago’s issues. This is Trinidad and Tobago. There should be people from your commission in Tobago to represent the interests of people here. So this is a backward process.”
RIC chairman Dawn Callender interjected, saying Tobago’s interests are represented on the commission through its deputy chairman Raye Sandy.
She said sandy represents Tobago “exceptionally well” and his opinions are valued.
The commission is due to host a second public consultation on Tuesday in Tobago at the Belle Garden Multipurpose Facility from 5-7pm.