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Trying to understand the Grand Bahama Power Company's billing practices
Saturday, 10 September 2011 12:11

Dear Editor,

While I feel that demonstrations are very important, in a DEMOCRACY like ours, for demonstrating our discontent when we feel that we were injured (and I do applaud the yeoman’s job being done by Troy Garvey and his team), I think, however, that there are more facts that must be brought into this mix; to the table, concerning the Grand Bahama Power Company and its billing practices, so that we all can understand, fully, the situation.

Several years ago a team, led by me, wrote to the Public Utilities Committee (PUC), now re-named URCA, requesting them to intervene, on behalf of consumers in Grand Bahama, in the oversight of the affairs of the Grand Bahama Company, with respect to their billing practices and to determine if consumers were being gouged (as we were then and are now convinced that we were and are).

My team wanted to know, simply, whether the GB power company was overcharging us or not and we didn’t feel we could leave it up to them to tell us truthfully. The response received was very disappointing, to say the least, as we were advised by the chairman of the PUC (now re-named URCA) that the Prime Minister (Hubert Ingraham) instructed them that utility companies, licensed by the Grand Bahama Port Authority and operating within the Port area, were off limits to their scrutiny.

We were told that under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, the Grand Bahama Port Authority had exclusive control and authority over the conduct and approval of rates billed, for utility services, by all utility companies licensed and operating within the Freeport area.

I was quite disappointed to have been told that bit of bad news because, while I did and certainly do now understand the fiduciary role and responsibilities of the Grand Bahama Port Authority to its Licensees, I didn’t then, nor do I now, feel that the functions of the PUC (URCA), should have been limited to utility companies outside of the Freeport area only. Any government agency, in my view, which is mandated for the protection of Bahamian consumers, should have no bounds; notwithstanding any private agreements with the central government; however it seems that’s the way it is.

My team then made inquiries of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, in a sort of round about way, and found out the full story on the surcharge levy which we all are, nowadays, up in arms about including Sir Jack Hayward who himself complained, several months ago, about his excessive power bill.

The facts are these; the power company, a few years ago, requested permission, of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, to raise the utility rates. The Port Authority refused their request, initially, but when the power company made the point to justify their request, that the cost fuel had increased by almost 100% since they last had a rate increase, I am told that the then Principals at the Port agreed a compromise and gave them permission to bill consumers a fuel surcharge, based on the cost of fuel over and above the cost that was paid at the time they were given their last rate increase. The Port has since continued to hold their position not to grant them a rate increase (despite numerous requests) but to allow them to continue (supposedly) recovering this additional fuel costs via a fuel surcharge.

While most reasonable consumers would feel sympathy for the precarious position in which the utility company finds itself, our gripe, I suppose, is not knowing what that total amount is which they recover from us each billing period; neither do we know the criteria being used and whether the cost is being distributed fairly. This, I believe, is what has the whole of Grand Bahama upset and angry.

Since the Port continues to refuse to grant a rate increase (which I agree, totally, shouldn’t be given); and since it seems that the surcharge levy will be the vehicle used, for sometime to come, to recover the excess cost of fuel, to the power company, over and above the basic cost to them as at the last time they were granted an increase; and since URCA has no jurisdiction (according to the gospel of Hubert Ingraham); and since the Grand Bahama Port Authority has sole oversight and is in fact the Regulator of utilities in the area, then I recommend that the Grand Bahama Port Authority appoint a “Consumer Protection Liaison Committee,” which would be attached to the Grand Bahama Port Authority (answerable to them only) and charge that committee with the mandate to ensure that consumers, on this island, are not being overbilled and or taken advantage in any way, shape or form.

Where I take issue, in all this, is when I receive a bill for $599.00 and $305.00 of that amount is the fuel surcharge amount. Are they telling me that the cost of Fuel has more than doubled since their last rate increase? Well I would prefer an independent committee examining their books and verifying the authenticity of this added cost monthly. I don’t believe, Mr. Grand Bahama Port Authority; Sir Jack Hayward, that you should continue to allow the Grand Bahama Power Company to police itself, in these matters. Transparency is the key word and we ought not to continue to ignore the cries, for transparency, by consumers; and YES I would be willing to volunteer gladly to serve on that committee.

Thank you kindly,

Forrester J Carroll J.P

Freeport, Grand Bahama

September 2011.

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