RIC on ‘unruly’ coffin protest at consultation - WE WON’T BE INTIMIDATED

UNC activist Kiel Taklalsingh, second from left, and other consultation participants present a replica of a coffin marked with the words, “RIP RIC” at an RIC consultation on a proposed increase in electricity rates at Centre Point Mall, Chaguanas, on Wednesday. - ANGELO MARCELLE
UNC activist Kiel Taklalsingh, second from left, and other consultation participants present a replica of a coffin marked with the words, “RIP RIC” at an RIC consultation on a proposed increase in electricity rates at Centre Point Mall, Chaguanas, on Wednesday. - ANGELO MARCELLE

THE Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) says it will not be bullied by anyone and will complete its public consultations on a proposed electricity rate increase, as it is required to do under the Constitution.

The commission gave this assurance after one of those consultations at Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas, on Wednesday, had to be aborted because of what the RIC described as the unruly behaviours of some of the attendees.

While the RIC gave the assurance, the Government and Opposition blamed each other for the events which transpired in Chaguanas that forced the RIC to prematurely end its consultation.

In a statement on Thursday, the RIC said Wednesday’s consultation began at the advertised time of 5 pm.

“As is the norm, the RIC intended to continue the sessions beyond the advertised two-hour time period, to accommodate all persons wishing to participate.”

The commission regretted that the meeting had to be abruptly ended at approximately 7.15 pm, when there were still members of the audience waiting in line to speak.

“The RIC’s decision to end the session was prompted by the behaviour of some attendees who were disrupting the proceedings and confronting persons at the head table.”

The commission identified its chairman Dawn Callender and executive director Glenn Khan as two of the people at the table who were confronted by unruly attendees.

The RIC said, “This behaviour began when a member of the audience interrupted the presentations, by using a device in his possession to play music loudly.”

The commission said this behaviour continued with threats from other people to light flammable liquids in the auditorium, and “further escalated to the dragging of a replica coffin throughout the venue.”

The coffin bore the words, “RIP RIC.”

RIC: Officials felt threatened

Under the circumstances, the statement said, Callender had no choice to end the meeting because she was afraid for the safety of RIC officials and everyone else in the auditorium.

The commission said Callender and other RIC officials had to be escorted out of the auditorium by police officers.

“The RIC stands firm in its belief in democracy and in having a fair, equitable and transparent consultation process.

“However, the commission will neither be intimidated nor will it allow these sessions to descend into disorder, chaos and unsafe conditions.”

The commission said it supported all citizens’ rights to share their views, but added that it “strongly condemns the disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour exhibited by the persons attending the consultation and the unprofessional behaviour of elected officials in attendance.”

The UNC’s Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh, Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally, Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes and San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein were at Wednesday’s consultation. In addition, UNC PRO Kirk Meighoo, UNC activist and attorney Kiel Taklalsingh and other UNC activists were in attendance.

The RIC said, “When persons behave in a disruptive manner, it deprives other attendees of their opportunity to be heard.”

The commission reiterated its determination to complete the public consultations on the proposed electricity rate increase and carry out its constitutionally mandated functions. It repeated that its officials would not not be intimidated by anyone.

“The RIC is dedicated to effectively and efficiently engaging with stakeholders on the T&TEC Price Review.”

As a first step towards ensuring the safety of attendees at future consultations, the RIC said the presence of police officers at those consultations would be substantially reinforced.

The commission thanked the police officers on duty at the consultation on Wednesday for ensuring the safety of all the attendees.

Minister: UNC seeks disruption, discord

On Thursday, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales condemned the behaviour of UNC members who were at the consultation and the kind of behaviour they encouraged some of the people at the consultation to engage in.

“From the start of the consultation process by the RIC, the UNC has mobilised their members of Parliament and party operatives to attend these meetings to stir mischief and discord and to intimidate the professionals who are simply discharging their lawful duties.”

Gonzales said, “Those opposition MPs should be ashamed of themselves because they are a disgrace to our youth and our children.”

He claimed opposition members had shown themselves to be incapable of engaging in healthy debate and discussions on any matter.

“Their standard and modus is all about creating national disruption and discord.”

Gonzales also claimed the UNC MPs at the consultation were being supported by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who “seems unable to control her marauding miscreants.”

In a subsequent statement issued by his ministry, Gonzales reinforced his argument and called on Persad-Bissessar “to rein in her MPs so that the RIC could legitimately conduct their work without fear of intimidation and threats that have visited upon them at every public consultation.”

Gonzales called on the police to ensure “that at all (RIC) consultation meetings, that law and order is maintained and prosecute those responsible for engaging in intimidatory and criminal behaviour that undermines the national interest.”

There was no comment from the police regarding any event at the RIC consultation in Chaguanas.

After saying the behaviour of UNC MPs and other people at the Chaguanas consultation supported statements made by the Prime Minister about the behaviour which the Opposition engages in frequently, Gonzales reiterated that neither he nor Dr Rowley had directed the RIC “either to increase electricity rates or even do so by a specific amount.”

He said the RIC was an independent body under the Constitution and must be allowed to continue its public consultations in “a free, fair and safe manner.”

Gonzales reminded citizens that “the purpose of these public consultations is to obtain feedback from citizens before the RIC presents its final report to the Government.”

UNC: Public opposed to rate increase

In a statement, Padarath rejected Gonzales’ statements about the behaviour of UNC members at the Chaguanas consultation and why the meeting was aborted.

Padarath said he and his parliamentary colleagues were present to support Chaguanas residents.

He claimed the events on Wednesday proved the RIC consultations were nothing but a sham.

Padarath said the RIC was unrealistic to expect that people would not have concerns or be emotional about a possible electricity rate increase.

He claimed the language used by RIC officials, implied the rate increase was a done deal.

Padarath rejected Callendar’s claims that her security and that of commission officials was at risk at any time, because a large number of police officers were present at the venue.

Padarath said any real consultation would result in the RIC advising the Government that the public is opposed to an electricity rate increase at this time.


"RIC on ‘unruly’ coffin protest at consultation – WE WON’T BE INTIMIDATED"

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