Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales says the proposed increase in the electricity rate will not take place this year.
“Before T&TEC implements the rate as proposed and approved by the RIC (Regulated Industries Commission), from a policy perspective, the matter is placed before the Cabinet so that T&TEC, being an agency that belongs to to citizens of TT, will now have the blessing of the Cabinet before the rates are implemented in 2024 as the case may be.”
He was speaking during an interview with Catholic News TV’s Altos programme on Friday.
Gonzales said the matter was referred to the Finance and General Purpose Committee, a sub-committee of Cabinet, to determine the financial implications on domestic, commercial and industrial customers a well as T&TEC.
He said his ministry was gathering all the relevant information to put before the committee. Also, T&TEC had a lot of internal work to do on its systems and had to give a 21-day notice before the rate increase was implemented so it would not occur before the end of 2023.
He said even with the proposed rate increase, TT would still have the lowest electricity rates in the Caribbean second to Suriname.
He added that government spent over $70 million annually on the electricity rebate policy and the electricity bills of vulnerable citizens were subsidised under the utility assistance programme.
Also, T&TEC did not pay NGC for the gas used to generate electricity, which cost the government $5 billion. He said government would have to restructure the subsistence systems and make a final recommendation under the new monthly billing system.
Govt to probe TSTT data breach
Gonzales also announced government’s decision to conduct an independent inquiry into the October 9 cyber attack on the Telecommunication Service of TT (TSTT) although the telecommunications company’s was working with an international cyber security expert on the matter.
He said there had been a lot of conflicting information into the data breach at TSTT where 6GB of customers' data was compromised and released on the dark web on October 28.
He said initially the public was not informed of the extent and gravity of the breach. He too was not fully informed which led to him saying customers’ data was not compromised in Parliament on November 1.
“Subsequently, some further information came to fore and, as a result of that, I have decided to conduct an independent, thorough investigation into the matter. And in the public’s interest, to let the people of TT understand what in fact took place, how it was managed when it was first detected and what ought to be done to prevent this from happening again.”
He said the TSTT board was putting things in place to conduct the investigation and he will be monitoring it and will ensure the resulting recommendations were implemented.
“The board has formed a subcommittee and they have identified a local company that would play a significant role in investigating the matter but there is a national security component that must be examined.
“We must make a determination as to what potential implication it’s going to have for the national security of TT. And I am intent on looking and speaking to some international partners to recommend someone that is from outside of TT to come in and make that determination for us.”
He assured the public that the report would not be ignored and it would be made public, except for any private information. He said the public had the right to know what happened and what should be done to protect citizens’ data in the future as anyone could be a potential victim of the cyber attack since TSTT was a repository of data on thousands of citizens and residents.
“It is too serious a matter that can undermine the security and the stability of the country for this situation to be treated with lightly.”
Gonzales added that he received unconfirmed information that his data and that of other government officials and prominent business people was released along with those of the average citizen.
He said he had been “in constant contact” with Digital Transformation Minister Hassel Bacchus and the breach was one of the ministry’s highest priority.
“We have been working with the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) and they have been sourcing the best international experts around the country to ensure not only TSTT, not only the AG’s office, but that the state sector, we operate on a platform where our ICT infrastructure is robust enough to prevent these things from happening.”
The Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, the Judiciary and TTPost were victims of cyber attacks earlier this year.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said citizens’ data falling into the hands of criminals was disturbing and called on TSTT to treat the matter with the greatest competence and utmost sincerity.
“TSTT is also expected to treat this matter as a national security threat and ensure that the public trust is restored, preserved, and handled with absolute professionalism.”
During a virtual investors' call on Friday, TSTT CEO Lisa Agard said the company had strengthened its safeguards to protect itself and its customers from any future cyber attack and apologised for the breach.
She said as soon as the breach was detected, the company activated its international cyber security experts and launched an incident response plan to isolate systems and applications from the hackers.
Since then, it had been implementing additional security measures and protocols recommended by experts.