MP for Moruga/Tableland Michell Benjamin speaks at the Regulated Industries Commission public consultation in JRD Mohammed Conference Centre in Princes Town on Saturday. – Marvin Hamilton
Chairman of the Regulated Industries Commission Dawn Callender called on people at a public consultation not to rely on politicians to speak on their behalf over proposed hike in electricity rates.
Callender was speaking at at RIC’s public consultation at JRD Mohammed Convention Centre at St Croix Road in Princes Town on Saturday.
Her comment was met with objection from Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin who accused Callender of being out of touch with the living expenses of people in some communities.
“We were elected to represent the people. Some people cannot afford to pay their bills. I pay their bills, so I earn the right to speak on their behalf. Many people cannot afford to pay the increase. Many people cannot afford to buy food,” Benjamin said.
“You are listening Ms Callender, but you are not hearing. This exercise makes no sense because you came here with your mind already made up. The RIC needs to be in touch with real people. We, in the UNC, represents real people with real issues. People cannot afford the increase.”
Benjamin said many constituents could not afford transportation to be at the consultation. She said earlier comments by Callender saddened her.
Another Princes Town MP Barry Padarath yet again called on the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) to hold its hands until reliable, and variable data is collected on the proposed price review for the electricity transmission and distribution sector.
Padarath claimed the RIC is using data from 2009 which does not reflect the reality of current household budgeting.
He also questioned the process used to host the consultations.
A member in the audience speaks at the Regulated Industries Commission public consultation in JRD Mohammed Conference Centre in Princes Town, on Saturday. – Marvin Hamilton
The RIC, established in 1998, is the independent regulator of utility service providers.
Padarath threw jabs at the three panellists, Callender, executive director Glen Khan and consultant Dr Michelle Salandy, an economist.
He said while Callender refers to the RIC as an “economic-thinking organisation,” it should also be seen as an independent organisation.
He added that Callender and Salandy previously held government-appointed positions. Callender sat for two terms as a director of the Airports Authority of TT, and Salandy served as a RIC commissioner.
“How can we have faith this process is transparent and independent when it is himself to himself, herself for herself?” he asked.
The MP referred to an advertisement by the Ministry of Planning and Development on the household budget survey and survey of living conditions (February 2023- January 2024), adding that people’s salaries have not been going up. Everything else has been going up.
At previous consultations, attendees disrupted the event, but despite several disagreements, the meeting continued.
Padarath noted the heavy police presence at Saturday’s event and assured Callender that she was safe in his constituency.
Naparima MP Rodney Charles said it appeared that the public was being burdened to subsidise TT Electricity Commission’s (TTEC) “inefficiency.”
He cited the finance minister, who said TTEC owes the National Gas Company (NGC) $7 billion. The opposition MP cited a newspaper article that said TTEC is owed $1 billion.
“How could you come to us today to tell us that TTEC is unable to pay its bill when you are not in a position to tell us who owes TTEC and if the government is paying its debt?”
In response, Callender said the reason TTEC cannot pay the debt is “in part” the rates it is collecting.
“In addition, TTEC is owed $1 billion. So even if everyone pays the rate, the $6 billion hold remains with TTEC. I know we are concerned with the $1 billion, but that $1 billion is weighted against $7 billion.”
Earlier in his presentation, Khan said 90,000 people or 20 per cent of TTEC’s customers use about one to 200 kWh (kilowatt-hour) monthly. These people are considered to be in the lowest income group and the proposal is 20 cents or less increase per day.
People using 201-700 kWh per month would be paying an increase between 21 cents and $1.44 per day. This group represents 48 per cent of the TTEC customers.
Khan added the average usage per month for that category is 600 kWh.
It means close to 300,000 people fall within the one to 700 kWh per month, and their increase is likely to be less than $1.44 per day.
Several representatives of the Princes Town Regional Corporation including Deryck Mathura and Lutchminarine “Nello” Ramdan also shared their disapproval over the proposed electricity rate increases.
The deadline for anyone who wants to send written submissions to the RIC is March 31. The RIC also held a similar consultation in Siparia on Saturday.