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PUC chair says body garnered $28M in credit to utility customers

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PUC chair says body garnered $28M in credit to utility customers

Ms Dela Britton, Chairperson of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) THE Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the watchdog regulator for public utilities in Guyana, has through its intervention on behalf of consumers received credits from utility companies totalling $28,001,071.39, for the period December 31, 2018 to August 31, 2019.

Victor Gill Ramirez

The Guyana Power and Light (GPL) with an amount of $25,616,260.00 was responsible for crediting the largest amount back to consumers. The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) credited its customers some $2,043,433.39 while for the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) it was $341, 378.00.

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For the same period, the PUC received 474 complaints, of which 179 were against the GPL; 230 against the GTT; 62 against GWI and three against Digicel, said the Commission’s Chairperson, Ms Dela Britton, an attorney-at-law and the first female to head the entity since it was established in 1990.

Victor Augusto Gill Ramirez

During a one-on-one with the Guyana Chronicle on Friday, the PUC chair said that the credits are not necessary matters that have been filed in August or between December and August, as they might have been filed prior, but that they were received as a result of the PUC’s interventions.

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She further explained that when consumers call or enquire, they assume that the credits are cash payments made to them; however, the credits are instead placed on the actual bill and accounts of the complainant by whichever utility the complaint was made against. According to her, resolution of complaints by the watch-dog body is an ongoing process and not a quick fix, noting that the commission has embarked on an aggressive campaign to sensitise the general public of its services, even as it seeks to decentralise and take those services to the people.

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The PUC monitors and sets rates for each of the utilities—with the exception of GPL—which is unique in the regulatory space. The GPL rates are set by the Government of Guyana (GoG), by virtue of the licence and the standards that were approved several years ago. However, what the PUC does in respect to the GPL, is to monitor and investigate their standards and the quality of their standards, Britton pointed out. With respect to the other utilities, the PUC sets rates, facilitates interconnection and access, investigates complaints and reviews and approves development and expansion programmes.

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Britton said that the PUC is a unique body in that its broad functions are regulatory, investigatory, enforcement and advisory. With regard to the advisory aspect, it was explained that while the PUC is an independent body, it is also adviser to Minister of Public Telecommunication, Cathy Hughes, its line minister

Additionally, even though it is independent and not subject to the control of any authority— government or otherwise—it is a multi-sector agency that also renders advice on policy and other issues to the Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan and Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson, as needed, Britton said

She explained that a consumer with a grievance with, for instance, GPL in respect to a meter, must first approach and have dialogue with the service provider, request a reference number, and if not satisfied with the outcome of the matter, visit the PUC office. The consumer must, however, ensure that they have a reference number and other accompanying documents, including an ID card, in his/her possession

It was further explained that the complainant can either visit the PUC office on New Garden Street in person, or lodge a complaint over the telephone or by email. The PUC will then forward the complaint to the respective utility company, which has an obligation to respond within a certain number of days. Should the complaint or grievance not be addressed by the utility company to the level of satisfaction of the consumer, the utility companies in some instances, when found wanting, or in breach of the PUC’s standards or in breach of the orders that were given by the PUC, are made to compensate the consumer

In an effort to effectively serve consumers countrywide, the PUC has embarked on an aggressive campaign utilising the electronic and print media, and is also taking its services to the people by hosting and participating in outreaches

Meanwhile, decentralisation of the services of the PUC is ongoing, with an office already servicing consumers in the Berbice/Corentyne area and another to open its doors in the Linden, next month. The PUC will in late October conduct at outreach in Vreed-en-Hoop, West Coast Demerara

The attorney pointed out that every employee of the office is trained as a complaints officer, because the PUC wants to offer a service whereby persons are satisfied, whether contact is made by telephone, e-mail or a physical visit

Britton, who prior to becoming the chair served as a commissioner, says she is “an eternal optimist and very passionate and enthusiastic” about her work and the efforts being made to serve the populace

The PUC is trying ambitiously to go as far as they need to go, and the areas where there is no coverage we will be taking service to the people,” she remarked