Gonzales to RIC: Public must be fully consulted

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales – Angelo Marcelle

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said the Regulated Industries Commission should ensure that widespread public consultation is held before a final recommendation is made for increases in electricity rates. The RIC on Thursday announced a proposal for increases in electricity rates of between 15 and 64 per cent, depending on consumption.

Gonzales said the government has been saying for the last two years, that both WASA and TTEC would be approaching RIC for a review of water rates and electricity rates, because those are necessary for the survival of the two critical utility companies.

“The issue of a rate review for WASA and TTEC is a matter for the RIC, and the government at this point in time has no intention to interfere in the work of the RIC as that would be a breach of the Regulated Industries Commission legislation, so I would not be offering any comment on the RIC’s proposal.

“I recognise that they will be engaging in public consultations, and my encouragement to them is to make sure that those consultations are held far and wide before the finalisation of the rates, and consequently, a recommendation to the government.”

He said as proposed in recent budgets, if there is an increase in utility rates, government will introduce as a utility card system that would be targeted towards assisting vulnerable citizens in the society so they can continue to have access to water and electricity.

Gonzales said he did not think the current subsidy system, where everyone received a subsidy whether or not they deserved it, was the best way to apply a subsidy in any country.

“As a citizen of TT, personally, I would want both WASA and TTEC to be in a financial position where both utility companies can improve the levels of service and their financial performance. And as a country and citizens living in TT, it is in our collective interest to ensure that whatever has to be done will be done, and that we have a subsidy structure that will benefit and protect the most vulnerable citizens in the country.”

Gonzales said he understood that no one in society would agree on a specific time which would be the most appropriate for the revision of water and electricity rates in TT.

In a release, Opposition MP Barry Padarath encouraged citizens to attend the public consultation sessions being organised by the RIC to voice their objections and concerns with the proposed rates loudly and vociferously within the law. The Princes Town MP said the Opposition would be big and bold at these public consultations and would be encouraging constituents to lift their voices against the rate increases.

Energy Chamber CEO Dr Thackwray Driver said the chamber is in the process of analysing the proposals and would comment further next week.

TT Manufacturers’ Association president Tricia Coosal said the association was dealing internally with members to find out their reactions and would release a position shortly.

Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Ramon Gregorio said the organisation’s offices were closed for the year, but the board would be having a conversation with its members in the new year and would issue a release.

“As a business owner, I feel divided. At the end of the day, the government has to raise revenue and continue to raise revenue in a responsible way. I don’t think we’ve had a rate increase in a while. I haven’t studied the proposals in a detailed way but will definitely do so by next week.”

Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce president Kiran Singh said the rate increases will affect people negatively as they cannot afford to pay extra at this time.

“While we understand the rates need to be increased to get funds to maintain facilities and improve the facilities, the inflation rate has been increasing over the last several months due to the pandemic, supply chain disruption issues, and shipping rate increases by over 500 per cent.

“If the utility rates are increased in the short term, this will add to the further inflationary pressure that the citizens will face, and incomes are not increasing to match the inflation rate. This will impact not just businesses but the average man on the street.”

The TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce could not be reached for comment on Friday.