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Ensuring fair play and balance


Ensuring fair play and balance

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TODAY’S CONVERSATION is with Fair Trading Commission’s (FTC) chief executive officer Peggy Griffith, who addresses a range of issues.

Renewable energy received significant public attention last year and continues to do so in 2015, with the Commission issuing its decision to increase the Renewable Energy Rider capacity from nine megawatts (MW) to 20 MW in February. What are some of the next steps for determining future RER capacity?

Firstly, let me say that the Electric Light and Power Act was proclaimed on May 4, 2015. What this means is that the Minister of Energy is responsible under the legislation for setting the renewable energy targets and the Commission will provide advice as required.

The Government Electrical Department and the Electric Light and Power Advisory Committee, which has already been established, will also be involved in this process.

Legislation is set to be amended which will increase the Commission’s jurisdiction in regard to the regulation of telecommunications providers other than Cable & Wireless (C&W), while the services of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) have already been added to the Commission’s purview. What approach is being used to bring BWA in line with other regulated utilities?

As you know, we have had responsibility for regulating the BWA since late last year. This marks the first occasion that the Commission will be regulating a public utility.

We are happy to have the BWA on board and the company can expect to be regulated in the same way – with the same level of independence and impartiality – as our regulation of the private companies.

We have started dialogue with the company and have mainly been dealing with the resolution of consumer complaints.

Shortly, we will have in place a utility analyst, who will be responsible for the BWA and we will begin to work with the company on the establishment of appropriate standards of service.

This is a fairly detailed process that will also involve public consultation and ultimately the commission will decide on the areas for which standards of service should be established, the associated targets and the appropriate level of compensation for breaches of the targets.

The Court of Appeal decided in favour of the commission in its appeal of the High Court’s decision in Barbados National Oil Company Limited (BNOCL) vs FTC case. What significance does this ruling hold for the Commission?

The commission argued that the BNOCL had abused its dominance when it acquired the contract for the supply of heavy fuel oil to the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P).

The issue in this matter was that a proper execution of the tendering process was prevented as information on a throughput fee, which should have been given to the oil companies so that they could also tender, was not forthcoming.

The decision made it clear that BNOCL must provide a throughput fee, as the pipeline, which takes heavy fuel oil to BL&P at Spring Garden, is an essential facility.

I noticed that BL&P has issued a tender notice for the supply of heavy fuel oil to this facility.

The commission expects that the throughput fee will be made available and therefore all companies wishing to submit a bid should be in a position to do so.

Last month the Commission was asked to address the ongoing tipping fee matter, with waste haulers stating that they are awaiting a decision from the Commission. What developments have occurred with regard to this issue?

Yes. The waste haulers have indicated that they are awaiting a decision from the commission and I can confirm that we have met with their representatives and we are conducting an investigation.

I want to clarify that the implementation of a fee and the amount of the fee to be charged is rooted in legislation, legislation which governs the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), and as a consequence we are not investigating whether it is excessive, should not be charged or whether it should be removed. We have no jurisdiction in this regard.

We are, however, looking into the allegation that the SSA is abusing its dominance, by imposing the tipping fee on private haulers while the SSA itself is not incurring an equivalent charge, as well as the alleged failure of the SSA to charge commercial customers a price reflective of its full cost of operations. As I said, these are allegations and at the end of our investigation, they may or may not be substantiated.

In March, the Commission announced that the proposed C&W Communications/ Columbus International Inc. merger had been approved, with conditions. How has the merger process progressed thus far?

Progress is as expected. In approving the merger, the commission imposed several conditions because, while the commission assessed the overall efficiencies of the merger, it also identified the anti-competitive effects which the merger will create in the fixed line and broadband market in Barbados.

You should note that the commission’s decision directs that, within the first 180 days, it is the responsibility of the merged entity to find a buyer for the divested assets who is acceptable to the commission.

The key to healthy and fair competition is effective enforcement and we are ensuring that the conditions as proposed in the merger decision are being acted upon.

One of the component’s of the commission’s decision is the appointment of a trustee to ensure that the assets which the commission required the company to divest remain intact for the buyer. The commission is currently working through this process.

The Commission hosted a workshop in March – The Construction Industry: An Examination Of Its Impact On Consumers – which highlighted some of the challenges encountered by persons building or renovating their homes. What led to the Commission’s investigation of this industry?

Last year, the commission investigated allegations of unfair trading practices in the construction sector. This was based on the receipt of several complaints from consumers and we took the decision to share the findings with personnel in the sector by way of a workshop. 

It was an excellent session and we received very good support from industry personnel, many of whom made suggestions that are quite helpful to consumers.

We are currently acting upon the recommendations in the report and at the same time arranging presentations in-house for small groups of consumers to discuss how they could avoid some of the problems which they are encountering.

We are also launching a Facebook page on June 22, which will extend the commission’s public awareness reach and provide useful consumer tips.

So we will also use this page as a vehicle to disseminate information relating to this report to the public.