JUST IN TIME for the holidays, Marvin Gonzales gave the country a gift last Friday.
Speaking during an interview with Catholic News TV, the Public Utilities Minister confirmed the electricity rate increase proposed by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) will not take effect before the end of the year.
The delay buys more time for households, some of which will be subject to bills going up by as much as 64 per cent once the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC) implements the new scheme. It is a welcome reprieve, especially given the shakiness of the Government’s continued commitment to pay 37,000 public servants back pay by Christmas.
But while Mr Gonzales clarified the rate increase would not take effect before 2024, the eventual timeline of implementation remained fogged in uncertainty.
The minister disclosed the Prime Minister had referred the RIC’s recommendations to the Finance and General Purposes Committee, a standing sub-committee of Cabinet, for detailed consideration as a matter of policy making.
T&TEC must also prepare its internal systems for implementation.
Given the 21-day notice the utility must give customers before any rate hike, this means changes will not take effect before the end of the year.
But when the Cabinet will complete its process is not clear. Nor is it apparent when T&TEC will be ready to usher in change.
Mr Gonzales did give the country an additional gift: confirming $70 million in electricity-bill rebates will remain. However, existing subsidies designed to help vulnerable citizens pay will also be subject to review to ensure that they better reach intended target groups. This comes against the backdrop of the $5 billion subsidisation already enjoyed by T&TEC at the gas-production level. When the weighing of all such matters will be completed is not certain.
The lack of a clear timeline aggravates an already disagreeable situation, a situation whose genesis is precisely the same lack of clarity when it comes to the timing of rate reviews. Because such reviews have been done seemingly by vaps over the decades, consumers are in a situation where they are being administered bitter medicine in the form of a one-off hike meant to compensate for years when needed adjustments were left in abeyance.
There should be mandatory rules stipulating more regular reviews. And there should be equally binding rules defining the timeline of implementation by agencies overseen by Cabinet.
Because such rules are not in place, no one can say for sure if the increases might take effect, for instance, in the post-Christmas guava season, at the time when consumers might feel the pinch the most. Businesses, too, cannot properly plan if they cannot judge what their costs will be.
While the Government is giving consumers a reprieve, there could well be a sting in the tail come 2024.