Trinidad power company owed 700 million by customers

Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte takes a closer look at at the new T&Tec Mobile Substation machinery.

(Trinidad Guardian) Pub­lic Util­i­ties Min­is­ter Robert Le Hunte says out­stand­ing pay­ments owed to the Elec­tric­i­ty Com­mis­sion (T&TEC) for the sup­ply of ser­vices is ap­prox­i­mate­ly $700 mil­lion—with the ma­jor­i­ty of ar­rears owed by Gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions.

In con­firm­ing the fig­ure fol­low­ing a query by the T&T Guardian re­cent­ly, Le Hunte said the amount owed by house­hold con­sumers made up the small­est amount—$100 mil­lion.

Among the re­main­ing $600 mil­lion, the largest sum owed is from gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions. This is fol­lowed by in­dus­tri­al/com­mer­cial con­sumers, Le Hunte added.

Le Hunte, how­ev­er, de­clined to give the fig­ure owed by Gov­ern­ment de­part­ments.

He said, “T&TEC does a good job in man­ag­ing their re­ceiv­ables. The amount out­stand­ing rep­re­sents $700 mil­lion out of an­nu­al sales of $3.1 bil­lion.

“This, in turn, rep­re­sents about 82 days’ sales, which com­pares favourably to WASA where the (re­ceiv­able) fig­ure rep­re­sents 365 days sales. I’m very com­fort­able with T&TEC’s per­for­mance in this area. Where gov­ern­ment agen­cies owe T&TEC, arrange­ments are in place to fa­cil­i­tate an or­der­ly re­duc­tion.”

He added, “WASA, on the oth­er hand, needs to step up their lev­el of re­cov­er­ies, where the ma­jor­i­ty of out­stand­ing re­ceiv­ables are in the do­mes­tic cus­tomer group with lim­it­ed re­pay­ment plans in place.”

Com­ment­ing on the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, Op­po­si­tion MP Gan­ga Singh —a for­mer Pub­lic Util­i­ties min­is­ter —said res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial cus­tomers were the cat­e­gories of clients who tra­di­tion­al­ly paid their bills and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments his­tor­i­cal­ly didn’t.

Call­ing on the Gov­ern­ment to say how much gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions par­tic­u­lar­ly, owe T&TEC, Singh added, “T&TEC is very ef­fi­cient in dis­con­nect­ing res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial cus­tomers for non-pay­ment of bills, ex­cept in the crime ‘hotspot’ ar­eas. If the pub­lic doesn’t know which de­part­ments owe T&TEC the most—and I’m sure it’s gov­ern­ment de­part­ments—it places T&TEC in a bad po­si­tion as they can’t take the puni­tive sanc­tion of dis­con­nec­tion.”

Singh said for­mer Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship fi­nance min­is­ter Lar­ry Howai had once al­lo­cat­ed monies to gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions in such a way that util­i­ties like T&TEC and WASA had to be paid and the mon­ey couldn’t be used for any­thing else.

“It isn’t fair that res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial cus­tomers should car­ry the bur­den of pay­ing their T&TEC rates—and suf­fer the dan­ger of be­ing dis­con­nect­ed im­me­di­ate­ly if they lapse some­where —when gov­ern­ment de­part­ments which owe the most to T&TEC are shield­ed on how much they owe. Gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions should set the ex­am­ple in rate pay­ing. But if they’re pro­tect­ed they’ll nev­er pay their rates.”

He added, “Al­low­ing gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to con­tin­ue hav­ing ar­rears with T&TEC (or WASA) is an­oth­er form of tax­a­tion on house­hold­ers and oth­er cus­tomers who end up sub­sid­ing T&TEC op­er­a­tions if Gov­ern­ment de­part­ments don’t pay their bills —it’s un­fair.”

Not­ing that T&TEC (and WASA) have been seek­ing to pre­pare rate hike ap­pli­ca­tions in re­cent months, Singh al­so ques­tioned if hik­ing rates was fair to the pub­lic in cir­cum­stances where Gov­ern­ment di­vi­sions owed T&TEC the bulk of its ar­rears. He said it cre­ates a “po­lit­i­cal­ly in­duced in­ef­fi­cien­cy which will im­pact neg­a­tive­ly on T&TEC, and house­hold­ers and oth­er cus­tomers should not be bear­ing the bur­den when T&TEC has in­ef­fi­cien­cies such as high gov­ern­ment de­part­ment ar­rears.”

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