First it was water, followed by electricity, based on recent reports Barbadians will suffer another increase in the telephone rate of $1.77 per pricing plan, whatever that means. The biggest of all ironies is the recognition that the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) is owned by government and not regulated by the Fair Training Commission (FTC). Cable & Wireless aka LIME and the Barbados Light & Power fall under the oversight of the FTC. In both cases the PEOPLE lose.
BU can join the esoteric debate by the academics and analysts to argue the merits of hiking utility rates at the hike of a recession. We have always been more comfortable using arguments rooted in commonsense.
Barbadians have had to pay by decree up 60% increase in the water rate. Most Barbadians given the value of water to maintaining our existence would have been persuaded to suffer the increase, balanced by the argument the BWA was insolvent and in dire need of a overhaul. Prime Minister David Thompson told Barbadians in June 2009 that the increase in the water rate was necessary to ensure the BWA meets its mandate to deliver a quality water management infrastructure to Barbadians. Approaching one year the customer and other support services at the BWA remain abdominal. Minister Denis Lowe who is responsible for the BWA has been silent regarding progress in restructuring at that state body. Last week Barbadians were treated to the news that a consultant contracted by government will recommend the discontinuation of sucks/ pit toilets. Additionally current water zones may have to change.
Is this another case of the chickens coming home to ruse? It wasn’t too long ago when politicians Don Blackman and Trevor Prescod were defending the rights of squatters in the Belle. Other politicians have been known to put politics above the health of the nation by ignoring the growing problem of squatting in water zones. A lack of leadership in our water management perhaps?
This week the FTC as expected rolled over and accepted the proposal for a rate hike by the BL&P. The company’s position that it needed to beef up revenues to impress its bankers to facilitate development was a winning argument. The argument was reinforced given the reality that it appears to be a cheaper option to borrow than build equity. The Intervenors have hinted at a possible appeal but we all know the PEOPLE have been kicked in the rear yet again. God help us when the price of oil rises and the fuel clause adjustment takes full effect. While the technicians at the University twiddle in a post-Professor Headley period, the government remains ignorant about implementing tax credits to incent Barbadians to develop distributed generation, and Barbadians continue to feel comfortable in old consumption behaviours which is unsustainable. We wait for the next crisis to happen to expose our vulnerability. A lack of leadership in our energy management perhaps?
Finally we have Cable & Wireless aka LIME, the scariest of them all. A company which has raked in millions over the years from our small regional markets dating back to when we were colonies. A company which appears to be protected by regulation, a company which has benefited under the Price Cap Mechanism with the blessing of the FTC. A company which is still structured to deliver best in monopolistic conditions. If ever there was a case which describes what exploitative and opportunistic means, it is the decision by Cable & Wireless aka LIME to increase phone rates at this time. Bear in mind Barbadians are still awaiting a Decision from the FTC on the “Revised” Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO). The single-day Hearing on the RIO was held many months earlier than the 13 day Hearing on electrical rates, and yet we are still awaiting a Decision on the former.
We live in a world where telecommunications cost is being driven down because of technology and competition. In Barbados the cost seems to be going up. Is it a case of burdening a market with all it can bear given our propensity to yak and our unwillingness to change behaviours by accessing cheaper options of communications? A lack of leadership in our Telecommunications management perhaps?
In all of this the role of the FTC continues to be questioned. To what extent is the FTC forced to consider the socio-economic status of the customer base on which the applicants have to depend for revenue? Barbadians were promised that the role of the FTC would ensure that the utilities were well regulated. Are we happy that we have gotten it right, at whose expense?
How can a David Thompson government deliver on a campaign promise to suppressed the cost of living, when the key inputs in our productive sectors of water, communication and electricity costs are allowed to rise, driven by the marauding utility companies and an inept FTC?