THE NA­TIONAL UTIL­I­TIES REGULATORY COM­MIS­SION OF­FERS FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

Iun­der­stand that Mr Tr­us­cott "Sookoo" Au­gustin, the former chair­man of the Na­tional Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Com­mis­sion (NWSC), was in­ter­viewed on TV con­cern­ing the wa­ter sec­tor. It dawned on me then that the newly formed NURC may be mori­bund so soon af­ter life was breathed into it. Or are its ad­min­is­tra­tors too pre­oc­cu­pied with the funeral ar­range­ments of NWSC that there's no time left to in­form the pub­lic of its ex­is­tence?

Read­ers may be aware that NURC was es­tab­lished un­der the author­ity of Act No. 3 of 2016 with an ef­fec­tive date of 4th Jan­uary, 2016. That com­mis­sion is de facto an ex­pan­sion of NWSC in that it has author­ity to reg­u­late other util­i­ties e.g. en­ergy/elec­tric­ity in ad­di­tion to the wa­ter sec­tor. I am of that view since Act No. 3 of 2016 (NURC) in­cor­po­rates the leg­is­la­tion which cre­ated NWSC ex­cept for dele­tions/re­vo­ca­tions listed in the sched­ule of Act no 3 of 2016.

It is also my opin­ion that NURC was brought into ef­fect pre­ma­turely as the elec­tric­ity sup­ply amend­ment Act No. 2 of 2016 pro­vides the fol­low­ing: 1) to al­low NURC to as­sume cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­i­ties re the elec­tric­ity sec­tor; 2) to re­con­firm Luc­elec's mo­nop­oly po­si­tion on the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric­ity from fos­sil fuel; and 3) to pro­vide for the reg­u­la­tion and li­cens­ing of en­ergy gen­er­a­tion from re­new­able re­sources.

De­spite the above there is no sub­sidiary leg­is­la­tion, e.g. reg­u­la­tions un­der NURC, for the is­suance of li­censes to per­sons/ com­pa­nies who gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources for sup­ply­ing the pub­lic. Prior to the es­tab­lish­ment of NURC those who were able to gen­er­ate such en­ergy were able to sell their ex­cess to Luc­elec. The com­pany has ceased to en­ter­tain such trans­ac­tions since it would be il­le­gal to do so with­out the nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures/leg­is­la­tions in place.

The un­due haste in es­tab­lish­ing NURC bog­gles the mind. Imag­ine an ad­ver­tise­ment for a CEO be­ing placed in the lo­cal me­dia by the Min­istry of Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment even be­fore the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers was ap­pointed—a re­mit of the lat­ter.

Now that there is the NURC with ad­di­tional staff—viz CEO, cor­po­rate sec­re­tary and an en­gi­neer—there is lit­tle that can be done with re­gard to reg­u­lat­ing the en­ergy sec­tor. The irony of it all is that, in ef­fect, NURC is over­staffed as it can only reg­u­late the wa­ter sec­tor which was al­ready be­ing done by NWSC staff. The sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated since the in­ter­ac­tion which NWSC staff had with the pub­lic and me­dia (e.g. com­mu­nity town hall meet­ings, press re­leases and in­ter­views, etc) has ap­par­ently ceased. One won­ders in what staff, who were trained at pub­lic ex­pense, are cur­rently en­gaged.

An anom­aly has also arisen since the fund­ing of staff, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional, is from the levy and li­cense fees col­lected from the wa­ter sec­tor only. How long will this farce be al­lowed to con­tinue? An­other aspect of the NURC leg­is­la­tion which is of con­cern, and to which I drew at­ten­tion pre­vi­ously, is the ap­par­ent con­flict in hav­ing the same min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for pub­lic util­i­ties also over­see­ing the regulatory com­mis­sion. This prac­tice ob­tained pre­vi­ously in other re­gional states but has since been changed. It is frowned upon at the in­ter­na­tional level, as the fol­low­ing quo­ta­tion from a re­port is­sued in Au­gust 2014 will show: "Im­prov­ing eco­nomic reg­u­la­tion of ur­ban wa­ter. Sec­tion 4.3.3 page 29 states the fol­low­ing: Given the wa­ter in­dus­try is gov­ern­ment owned, there is a strong case that the eco­nomic reg­u­la­tor needs to be in­de­pen­dent from gov­ern­ment in or­der to avoid con­flicts of in­ter­est as own­ers, pol­i­cy­maker and reg­u­la­tor."

Ad­di­tion­ally: "The eco­nomic reg­u­la­tor should be an in­de­pen­dent body clearly at arms-length from gov­ern­ment, should be gov­erned un­der its own Act and re­port to a Min­is­ter not re­spon­si­ble for the sec­tor they are reg­u­lat­ing."

I re­gret hav­ing to write this ar­ti­cle but my aver­sion to wastage in­sists I do. The sit­u­a­tion as at Fe­bru­ary 2016 did not call for the em­ploy­ment of ad­di­tional per­son­nel with­out the leg­isla­tive author­ity to carry out the func­tions en­vis­aged un­der NURC. The reg­u­la­tion and the rel­e­vant sys­tems first had to be put in place.

Fur­ther, as a Com­mis­sioner of NWSC, I ex­pressed my con­cern in late 2015 to the in­ad­e­quacy of the tran­si­tional ar­range­ments for mov­ing from NWSC to NURC. It is in­struc­tive to note the NURC bill had pro­vided for the act to come into force on a day to be fixed by the Min­is­ter by or­der in the Gazette. If that pro­vi­sion had been ob­served, it would have pro­vided suf­fi­cient time for the prepara­tory work to be done, e.g. es­tab­lish­ing reg­u­la­tion and sys­tems to put into ef­fect the re­quire­ments of the Act.

Min­is­ter in charge of the NURC Stephen­son King.

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