Attorney-at-law and intervenor in the upcoming Barbados Light and Power company (BLPC) rate hearing Tricia Watson has taken Government to task over the proposed amendment to the Electric Light and Power Act (2013-2021).
The Bill, which is currently before the House of Assembly, provides a modification for Section 5 of the Act and an insertion of a Section 5A.
Watson especially took umbrage at Section 5A (6), which states: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this section entitles an interested party to have access to the application of any applicant for a licence.”
Watson, while speaking on a radio programme on Friday, described the proposed amendment as “going completely against the tenets of public law, and completely unfair and egregious from any perspective you look at it”.
“This is ridiculous. Not only is it ridiculous, it is unlawful. The law contemplates that where you are having a consultative process, the parties to that process must have access to the information that is under review, so there is not a case where the person who is making the decision saying ‘I have the information so the rest of you not needed’. That is not the way that it works in law. So that provision in itself is unlawful,” insisted Watson.
She said the country was simply going down a slippery slope and setting a bad precåedent.
“We are in 2022, we do not expect to be treated the way we were treated in 1922,” said Watson.
“I am concerned about it because the legislation is not fit for purpose and I am concerned because we are about to agree to licences with private producers of energy, energy that will go on the grid, that Light and Power will be compelled to take and Barbadians will have no visibility of that process,” she argued.
“We will not know who is behind these entities and we do now know to what the Government is agreeing on our behalf with those licences. I am concerned about it and I think every single Barbadian should be concerned because electricity is an essential service. We cannot function without it in today’s world,” she added.
Pointing out that Government had long promised amendments to the Electric Light and Power Act, Watson said the current amendment seemed to be “a knee-jerk” reaction to what was currently taking place.
Watson, a utility regulation specialist, is one of several intervenors in the BLPC rate hearing, in which the utility company is seeking a rate increase of about 11.9 per cent.
Describing the proposed amendment to the law as “ill-advised, heavy-handed and non-consultative”, the attorney said any business on the island and anyone seeking to do business here should be concerned, adding that the proposed move was “not normal, not acceptable and is bad practice”.
She further argued that the clause sought to curtail public involvement in the issuing of licences in the sector and this went against good governance and transparency.
“That amendment will have the effect of setting up insurmountable barriers to interested parties, and in my view, the interested parties would be any party who consumes and pays for electricity in this country,” said Watson.
She also expressed concern that the committee that is to make determination on the intervening process has not been named.
“I cannot find any information on the members of the electric light and power advisory committee. That also has to be addressed. We should be long past the stage where we have committees and boards working on the people’s business and we cannot know who they are,” she said.
Talk show moderator David Ellis also expressed his discomfort with the proposed change to the legislation, saying Government should provide a rationale for it.
“We have developed a country where we have come to accept having intervenors in matters of this nature,” he said.
“Based upon what has been said about this particular proposal it does not sit well with a number of people,” added Ellis.