September 13, 2012
QUESTIONS about the “integrity” of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority have been laid to rest by the government.
At URCA’s first “public consultation” meeting on Cable Bahamas’ proposed price increase, it was announced that URCA’s chairman, Randol Dorsett, had represented Cable Bahamas in the past as a lawyer.
However, a reliable top government official laid the question to rest yesterday, stating: “Mr Dorsett resigned as Cable Bahamas’ attorney prior to accepting the position of URCA’s chairman.”
The official also promised the government would be releasing a statement on the matter in the coming days if questions persisted.
When asked to comment, Bahamian businessman Dionisio D’Aguilar – who was present at Tuesday’s meeting – told the press that if the public are upset over the allegation they should direct their frustrations towards the government, and not URCA.
“The chairman of the board is appointed by the Prime Minister,” he said. “That’s what it is, so don’t complain to URCA, complain to the persons who appointed the chairman of the board.”
Mr D’Aguilar said that if it’s “indeed correct” that Mr Dorsett is still Cable Bahamas’ lawyer and URCA’s chairman, “that does seem to be a bit of a conflict.”
Speaking generally on the meeting for the proposed price increase, the Superwash owner branded it “stupid” and a “complete waste of time.”
Citing the overwhelmingly irate crowd at Holy Cross Anglican Church on Tuesday night, Mr D’Aguilar criticised the format of the public consultations and likened the town meeting to a near “lynching.”
He explained the public will always oppose a price increase and URCA will never get a fair and balanced opinion if the town meetings continue.
Cable Bahamas is seeking to raise prices by 27 per cent for its SuperBasic television package, now known as RevTV Prime, from $30 to $38 for residential customers and from $50 to $63.50 for businesses.
“That event last night was a silly exercise,” Mr D’Aguilar said yesterday. “When you ask the public do you want the cost of a service that they received to go up, you will have each and every time a resounding no.... Using that format is stupid. It is a complete waste of time. It doesn’t provide a balanced point of view.”
Remarking on the outraged crowd that had to be frequently reminded to behave in a respectful manner, he said: “Even if I had supported the increase, there is no way in God’s green earth that I was going to stand up in that room and allow myself to be abused by people in that room who are clearly pissed off with Cable Bahamas and who were not open to reason. Everyone was rallying – it was almost a lynching in there. The mood of the crowd was they were in that lynching environment.”
Noting the crowd frequently heckled Cable Bahamas officials present in the room to speak, Mr D’Aguilar continued: “And Cable Bahamas, it made no sense for them to respond to those people. They would have been screamed at and shouted at.”
As Cable Bahamas has offered basic cable at a rate of $30 since 1995, Mr D’Aguilar explained that it is “unreasonable” for customers to suggest a company can keep offering the same service at a steady price for such a long time.
“Now, any business that has not had an increase in their price in 17 years is after a while I think, it’s reasonable that they should expect an increase in the price,” he said. “It could be the $8, I don’t know. Obviously URCA can decide whether the amount is reasonable, but surely after 17 years of offering a service at the same price, they are entitled to some sort of increase.
“Superwash has not operated at the same price for 17 years, we would be out of business. It’s unreasonable for someone to think that they could do that. People don’t understand that there are operating costs. There are real reasons why you charge what you charge.”
Mr D’Aguilar suggested that rather than hold town meetings as a means of “public consultations,” URCA should instead have a controlled meeting with a group who supports the idea and a group that doesn’t support the idea before making a decision.
“They should change the format of their public consultation. Those town hall meetings have never worked and they are stupid. They are really a venting process for people who are unhappy. If I’m a happy customer of Cable, I’m not going to come to that meeting – why would I? URCA is not going to hear a balanced point of view by holding those stupid town hall meetings. They need to craft them in such a way to get maybe a panel of people who support it and a panel of people who don’t support,” he said.
“That could be an open forum, have a panel. Ten people who are for and ten people who are against. People could offer a reasoned approach so URCA can make an informed decision, but those public town hall meetings are the stupidest things that God ever created. They are always out of control, they are always just a way for people to vent. As a member of URCA, I really learned nothing from that process, that does not inform me other than there’s a lot of pissed off people out there.”
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