Gonzales: Be grateful for access to public utilities

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales . File photo/Angelo Marcelle

PUBLIC Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has urged the population to appreciate and be grateful for the availability of the utilities.

At a utility grant distribution ceremony at the Bon Air West Community Facility on Tuesday morning, Gonzales briefly spoke on the evolution of public utilities, recalling times in his life when he had to fetch water using a bucket from a nearby river.

Despite the faults of the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC) and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Gonzales said the government has continued to work to ensure all communities have access to water and lights.

This is done through a bill assistance programme, rebates and special grants.

Gonzales said, “We hear so much negativity, (but) as citizens we ought to be grateful for the kind of intervention we have taken over the years to improve the lives of people, because in many countries they don’t have access to these social services and programmes.”

He said T&TEC has one of the lowest electricity rates in the world and through the rebate programme 228,000 customers benefit from a 25 per cent discount on bills lower than $300.

“Access to public utility services is, after all, a human right. In some cases, they are necessary for our very survival, and in others, they provide a measure of comfort and security that help us live our best lives.

But he admitted, “Not everyone is able to access these critical services due to financial constraints or geographical location.

“It is this understanding that led the government to implement the Utility Assistance Programme (UAP). Initially, that programme provided financial assistance to eligible persons for the payment of their electricity or water bills. Subsequently, Water Tank Assistance and Solar Panel Assistance were added, providing eligible households with these amenities.”

Since 2015, he said 108,000 people have benefited from the UAP, at a total cost of $29.5 million.

“And then there is the Residential Electrification Programme (REAP) and the Electrification Assistance Programme (EAP). The first provides first-time wiring and rewiring services to eligible homeowners, and the second provides access to an electricity supply to unserved households and communities through the installation of poles and other electrical infrastructure.”

Over the past seven years, the ministry used $19.4 million to benefit 2, 500 people through the EAP and REAP has benefited over 2,100 people, he said.