Frequently, people pre-occupied with perceptions of seismic activity may have been often forced into believing that the earth beneath their feet was moving.
Invariably, others hallucinating, may have mistakenly believed that rolling thunder was the rumblings of earthquakes. Many had perceived dangers or occurrences that were far from reality. For the faint-hearted, such rumblings signified imminent disaster and the possibility of inconvenience, pain, sorrow and grief. In such state, some may have become jittery that their worlds of fantasies were coming to a tragic end.
When APUA Board Chairman CLARVIS JOSEPH voice reverberated across the nation disseminating public information, it was void of ambiguity.
The APUA Board Chairman with fluency and clarity of purpose spoke to the Media, on certain critical matters affecting its operations. However, it was the apparent air of “…adamancy and exasperation” that had placed financially-challenged consumers in a state of anxiety. Yet through a husky, but coherent speech, he had forcefully delivered his message that sent hapless citizens into frenzy. The Chairman had intimated that there were to be “…en-masse utilities disconnections.” Such had been evidenced by a sense of decisiveness.
However, on the big issues radio programme, the Board’s Chairman had clarified the contentious issue, pointing out that the AUTHORITY was targeting “…Commercial businesses” for disconnections [Observer: March 25, 2012]. When he revealed that “…poor people don’t owe,” consumers may have breathed welcome sighs of relief. Before the clarification, this commentary had already been authored to reflect the moods, reactions, feelings and perceptions of the citizenry.
In a nation as diverse and seemingly blessed with some of the sanest, orderly, peace loving and law abiding people, some of the attributes had been their resilience, tolerance and understanding. They had proudly proclaimed it as “…FAIR ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA.” Then with an immeasurable degree of sacredness, a particular tenet of this society had been the acknowledgement of the “…SUPREMACY OF GOD.” Consequently, the citizenry deserves only the most conscientious and the compassionate may be positioned in providing for empowerment, self-sufficiency, their prosperity, safety, security and well-being. Therefore, those seen as working against their best interest and that of their well-being shall be judged by history and posterity for their misdeeds to their fellowmen and ultimately, to humanity.
Medical Scientists, in the quest for scientific answers to ascertain how medicines affect the human body, they have often experimented on rats and guinea-pigs. Conversely, in human affairs, irrespective of intellect or affluence, it is expected that when situations demand or circumstances and/or expediency so dictate, some human being had to be identified and used as the “…Bearers of bad news.” Thus, if the “…ends justifies the means,” ideas that may have been conjured up for good or with ulterior motives had to be communicated “…To whom it may concern.” In governance as it has been in other entities, the same principle is applicable.
The APUA receivables as revealed had been an overall sum, (presumably for the three services), to be a whopping EC$682M. In the declaration of intent, the APUA Board Chairman CLARVIS JOSEPH had made it abundantly clear that the service provider was cash-strapped. This he said was primarily due to delinquent customers, and that it had to embark on a “…drastic drive” to recoup every cent that was due and payable to the Authority. Consequently, in a terse, yet audible voice, he had declared that of the three essential services being offered “…Water; …Electricity and Telephone” (WET), default payment of a single service, also meant default on those where consumers had not been delinquent in payments.
In view of consumers and public reactions, should an APUA Board Chairman be unwittingly allowed to operate, either in a vacuum or with impunity in affecting the quality of life of every man, woman and child? Pundits had argued that from the “…national and public interest standpoint,” a citizens may not be allowed to suffer, due to the ambitions, egoism and/or impulsive behaviour of a single individual. It has always been said that the common wealth of a nation were to be evenly distributed for the “…GREATEST GOOD FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER.” From a national security standpoint, a nation may not be allowed to suffer, due to the ambitions, egoism and/or impulsive behaviour of a single individual.
Thus, equally as much, none may deny that “…NON-PAYMENT” for the essential services provided by the APUA had been impacting negatively on its “…financial well-being and sufficiency; …ability in promptly meeting and discharging its obligations; …adequately responding to service deliveries and demands; while at the same time …maintaining its operational capabilities and effectiveness with efficiency, reliability and quality services. The Authority, seemingly “…cash strapped and exasperated” may attributed its operational difficulties, due in part to lack of employment opportunities and an economic crisis that had militated against prompt settlement of outstanding arrears. These factors appeared to have had a stranglehold on both, consumers and utilities service provider. Undoubtedly, citizens appeared to have found themselves precariously sandwiched between the “…devil and the deep blue sea.”
In view of the provisions of the APUA Act that allowed for regulations to be made by the Minister, whatever the APUA Chairman had touted, such necessarily required the seal of approval of the Minister with responsibility. The Board’s Chairman had posited reasons as those affecting monthly and/or defaulting payments by bona fide consumers. Given the apparent critical financial state of affairs, he may have been emotively overwhelmed by the financial crunch, thereby indicating that the Authority needed as much as EC$27M weekly of a significant sum, said to be protractedly owed by delinquent customers.
The weekly sum of $27M, he argued was necessary, if the APUA ought to meet and/or sustained its financial obligations and to operate with any satisfactory degree of efficiency and reliability. Hence, he cited that its recurring weekly expenditure and operational cost far exceeded collectibles. Thus, for these reasons, and even though he gave the impression that the APUA, like many consumers, including, government Statutory bodies, residential and commercial business entities were facing similar economic turbulence, were under its guillotine. This situation appeared to have been revealed mere days after a Statutory Corporation had suffered some suppression. He had expressed no apologies for what was contemplated for non-governmental entities and there was no expression of empathy for what were to be descended upon defaulters, seemingly struggling with high unemployment and soaring utility bills.
It was evident that the revelations had impacted public sensibility. Thus, what may have been described as apparent sheer exasperation, Chairman of the APUA Board of Commissioners had been accused of uttering with some degree of “…self-importance, aggressiveness, and insensitivity,” that such plan was to take immediate effect. These were among the responses made by members of the public and those of the business and wider community. Conversely, the non-payment of tariffs may also be seen in the light of having adverse effects on the administrative and operational capabilities of the Authority.
When APUA Board Chairman and Commissioner CLARVIS JOSEPH, seemingly with tactless indiscretion made public that the APUA was considering extremely harsh suppressive measures in the three essential services offered to consumers, citizen’s reaction was understandably swift, pronounced and unforgiving. Citizen’s responses, whether personally heard, informally apprised or officially fed back to the Minister with responsibility for “…Public Utilities,” Honourable Prime Minister DR. BALDWIN SPENCER, he may wish to hearken to the despairing voices of the citizenry, their financial plight and domestic concerns.
Consequently, the Honourable Prime Minister may likely to be moved by some compassionate display, while privately expressing some degree of consternation over the Chairman’s declaration of intent. For all intents and purposes, such, if made public, may be likened to the case of seemingly “…Unofficial pronouncements previously made by third parties in the State Insurance Corporation (SIC) divestment programme, when the Honourable Prime Minister publicly expressed contrary views of positivity and commitment to the divestment of one of the State’s most economically viable corporations as reflected in its recent financial reports, thereby “…conscientious and prudent,” limited his comments to exploration of possibilities.
This were to be made on the premise that he, like other Members of Parliament, would have graciously acknowledged and appreciated that due to their official status and confidence reposed in them in assisting in the improvement of the quality of life of the citizenry, they had been enjoying special privileges at the “…generous monthly subsidy” of the citizens on their respective use of the three essential services of water, electricity and telephones. Thus, it was to be believed that with some measure of compassion and understanding, the Honourable Prime Minister would have been the first not to make an unpleasant economic condition, situation or feelings worsened to the extent of these becoming more difficult and untenable for the hapless citizens.
Following the announcement, there was growing concerns among the citizenry. Many of whom became overly apprehensive and expressive with gestures of the utmost contempt. These came against the backdrop of announcements made by Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, CLARVIS JOSEPH, of the sole “…Public Utilities” provider. Seemingly in exasperation, the Chairman, rightly or wrongly, uttered an intention that may have negative impact on their“…EVERYDAY” domestic affairs and businesses operations were wholly dependent upon “…Water, Electricity and Telephones.
Then with incessant cries, public outrage and widespread national condemnation soared. A panic-stricken citizenry was alerted to a possible “…RUDE AWAKENING,” following frightening disclosures by APUA Board Chairman, suggesting an impending APUA plan of action, intended to affect consumers, directly or indirectly. These included “…the elderly; pensioners; …the mature; …middle-aged; …young adults; …the student bodies; …the toddlers and the innocent infants in arms. Babies cried, not necessarily over the darkness looming over their cradles, but only to the extent that they needed to be fed with either that which nature had provided for their comfort and growth or specially prepared baby formulas that unemployed mothers may not easily access. Seemingly, only the financially-challenged, unemployed and the most vulnerable citizens of the society were likely to be affected. Most citizens had trembled and grumbled, equally as much as they had been left baffled.
Such intended course of action, if implemented, could easily revive melancholic feelings among the citizenry. And while critics had postulated over familiar characteristics, the Chairman’s utterances had given every consumer of sound memory and discretion, reasons to reminisce the dreadful experiences of one of nature’s most feared elements-the “…destructive 1995 hurricane LOUIS.” Its destructive fury had plunged the nation and people into total darkness. Thus, the Chairman’s position appeared to have reflected no flexibility, confirming that his intentions were as real as the beard worn on his face.
The declared courses of action were said to be the result of “…delinquent payment” of any one or more of the three primary “…essential services” exclusively provided by the nation’s Public Utilities Authority (APUA). While it may have been seen as a plan of action, the abrupt revelation was said to have been uttered either as a coercive or intimidatory tactic. Nonetheless, it was for the specific reason of ensuring prompt settlements of outstanding utilities bills. Even public officials had frowned at the apparent imprudently-timed and ill-conceived suggestion. Such, many had posited may very well have implications for consumer relations, public confidence, personal and/or official embarrassment and ultimately continued tenure.
When citizens speak to “…PUBLIC UTILITIES,” it is instructive that they know a “…Public Utility is a business that furnishes or supply ‘an everyday necessity’ to the public at large. In modern societies, such utility is all part of the infrastructural development and a responsibility of a nation to provide for its citizens. Thus, public utilities provide inter alia, three essential services- “…Water, Electricity and Telephone.” These services may be publicly or privately owned or arrangements may be made for “…public-private partnerships” in their provision for public consumption. Whatever the arrangements may be, they are, nonetheless, operated as business enterprises. The APUA, established as a Statutory Business Corporation in 1973 through an Act of Parliament, had the monopoly for the provision of these essential services to the public.
Hence, the services provided to the public, such are said to be revenue generated and ultimately “…profit-based” business operations. In other words, they provide services for which customers “…SHALL PAY” at such periods as may be determined by the service provider for what they have consumed. Such was usually done through billings from accounts kept by the providers. Therefore, such settlements are expected to be made with minimum delays to avert delinquency, inconvenience and/or penalties for reconnection and/or litigation for “…CIVIL DEBT.” As with other business transactions, APUA as a “…business Statutory Corporation,” it reserves the right of litigation and conversely, is also liable to be litigated against.
Dependent upon the contractual arrangements for services to be consumed; …actually consumed and non-payments for that which may have been provided by the APUA, disagreeable issues are inevitable. These, on the one hand may be raised by consumers over quality of service, responses to queries, repairs, billing or excess charges. By the service provider, invariably, it was about “…delinquent payments; …disconnections; …illegal extractions, connections.” Logic dictates that the service provider, in exceptional and/or extreme circumstances, may exercising a power or discretion in disconnect or suppress particular services of defaulters.
Logic further dictates, that consumers who may not have been indebted to service providers for particular services, may not suffer penalties for which there were no indebtedness. Therefore, “…CONSUMER PROTECTION," dictated that calculated wantonness or recklessness on the part of service providers in “…SUPPRESSING” essential services that were not disputed may lead to lengthy, constituted a tortuous act and subject to litigious proceedings. Such contentions may be supported by a recent High Court Judgment against the national water service provider within this jurisdiction.
Most citizens had arrived at such conclusions against a recent High Court judgment against the APUA in which the authority, upon a customer having legitimately completed the necessary formalities, fulfilled the necessary `1conditions and financial obligations, lawfully installed a “…special water line” at the premises of the owners/operators of “…Maulvin’s Trucking Service” at Paynters. Then subsequently, in a strange turn of events in what was described as an unladwful move, APUA personnel had altered the water line, thereby suppressed the duly contracted water service.
Mr. Rawlston Pompey
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