Shooting themselves in the foot

The RIC consultation in progress at the Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas on Wednesday. - Angelo Marcelle
The RIC consultation in progress at the Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas on Wednesday. - Angelo Marcelle

THE ONGOING review of utility rates by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) is no joking matter. These rates will affect thousands of households, businesses and civil society groups. Even the Government – in the widest sense – will be affected, given the potential domino effect.

The importance of the ongoing consultation process cannot be overemphasised. It is disappointing, therefore, to see what played out on Wednesday, when the RIC tried to complete what should have been a straightforward consultation at the Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas. The meeting had to be cut short, with RIC members being escorted out by the police.

It is reported that the audience was irate from the onset, with police stepping in early when one man badgered a RIC director, who was then jeered for saying he recognised few people as being from the area. An opposition MP demanded an apology, declaring the people were from central Trinidad, listing the areas that are UNC strongholds.

An apology from the RIC director failed to calm tempers. Audience members brought out a mock coffin, and an RIC release says there were even threats to light flammable liquids. This is horrifying, if accurate. The result of a fire being lit in a crowded, enclosed space does not bear thinking about.

As the chairman ended the meeting, expressing concern for RIC officials' safety, their departure was blocked by opposition MPs, who said they were being unfair to residents.

Those who object to plans that could see rate hikes have every right to voice their concerns – that is exactly what the consultation process is supposed to accommodate. Under the law, the RIC cannot take action arbitrarily. It must consider the interests of customers.

But the rate-hike opponents at Wednesday’s meeting effectively shot themselves in the foot by not allowing a civil exchange.

The opposition MPs present had a role to play in facilitating dialogue and calming the mood, but arguably failed to do so. They have made their presence felt at previous consultations, but they ought to give way to let the public have their say, since as MPs they have many platforms.

All present could and should have done better to set the right tone.

The comment by RIC officials, who appeared to screen audience members to determine who was a bona fide resident, was an unnecessary provocation. In any event, if the RIC has designed its consultation process in a manner that would allow people with no interest in community affairs to participate, that reflects poorly on the RIC.

We express our grave disappointment with the way the RIC and public servants have been politicised not only by the Opposition but society at large.

If the Government triggers statutory processes, as per cabinet policy, that does not turn an independent commission and its staff into political actors. A public consultation is not a political party meeting. It is meant for all, and all should feel comfortable to participate. Wednesday’s developments harmed the ongoing process.


"Shooting themselves in the foot"

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