Regulatory bodies have problems getting credible info from utilities

The difficulty in obtaining credible and verifiable information from utilities by regulatory bodies is an issue faced here and within the Caribbean and this is slated for discussion at the Organization of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR) which commenced their Fifth Annual Conference here yesterday.

Guyana’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Commis-sioner Maurice Solomon is to present to the delegates from around the region the subject of ‘Challenges facing the regulator in obtaining creditable information from utilities’.

According to information provided, locally in varying degrees, creditable and verifiable information, in particular, financial information from utilities has been a problem to obtain making the carrying out of the overall mandate of the commission “extremely difficult”. It was stated that the inability of the bodies in obtaining creditable information on a regular basis from a utility inhibits exhaustive and careful analysis (by the regulator’s in-house specialists) on the performance and profitability of that utility. Some of the issues and possible approaches in the face of the lack of information will be discussed.

The conference, being held under the theme “The Evolving Caribbean Utility Environ-ment- Innovation and Develop-ment” at the Buddy’s Inter-national Hotel was officially declared open by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who urged the participants to create cordial relationships among the regulatory organizations within the Caribbean noting that there was much to be had in doing so.

Giving the feature address in the place of President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was slated to perform that duty, Hinds told the delegates that in these challenging times, the government is committed to assisting their efforts in every way it can.

Touching on the functions of regulatory bodies the Prime Minister said that while utilities must be kept “lean”, the public interest is not served by the utilities being “starved”. While noting the rapid changes especially in the telecommunications sector he affirmed the government’s position that “an open and competitive telecommunications sector will best serve Guyana at this time”. Hinds, pointing to the competition within the cellular communication sub-sector, asserted that the government was heartened by the liveliness of this area. He added that competition throughout the sector could bring even greater benefits. “Monopolies whether state-owned or private are finding that their monopolies are ending”, he declared. In this vein, on water he alluded to the wide utilization of bottled water and on electricity stated that the Guyana Power and Light is “almost a supplier of last resort”. He said that it is moving to a time where there are no monopolies, only competition.

The Prime Minister charged the gathering to consider, in their deliberations, how best they could be a force for the better in their countries and for the people.

Chairman of OOCUR, Professor Dennis Patin, in a brief address thanked the government for granting tax-free status and accommodation to the organization while retired Justice Prem Persaud, the Secretary/Treasurer of the body and also Chairman of the Guyana PUC urged the commissioners and regulators not to live in “ivory towers” but to work to protect unsuspecting consumers and ensure fairness.

Present at yesterday’s opening ceremony also was Secretary-General of the organization Rita Persaud-Kong.

OOCUR, which was established in 2002 aims to assist in the improvement of utility regulation, to foster transparent and stable utility regulation through autonomous and independent regulators in member countries, to undertake research, training and development, to facilitate understanding of regulation issues and sharing of information and experience.

Member bodies of the organization, which is incorporated here include the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) of the Organization of Eastern Carib-bean States, the Fair Trading Commission of Barbados, the Office of Utilities Regulation of Jamaica, the Regulated Indus-tries Commission (RIC) of Trinidad and Tobago, the Telecommunication and Postal Regulatory Authority of the Netherlands Antilles, the Virgin Islands Public Services Com-mission of the US Virgin Islands and the PUC’s of Guyana, Anguilla, the Bahamas and Belize.

Among other topics to be discussed at the conference which ends tomorrow are ‘Guyana Land of Many Waters: Ecological Assessment Impera-tive for Drinking Water” and various other issues in the areas of Energy/Electricity, Telecom-munication/ICT, and Water and Wastewater. (Gaulbert Sutherland)

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