(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.”