The Gaston Browne Administration needs to come up with ways in which all persons would benefit from its electioneering moves – in particular the wiping-off of utility arrears – says Harold Lovell.
On October 5, the Cabinet announced that the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) will forgive the debts of residential customers whose electricity and water accounts were in arrears before and up to December 31, 2021.
Additionally, those who pay the current month’s obligation, from this amnesty, will be reconnected by November 1, the Cabinet decided.
But Lovell, the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) Political Leader, says there should have been a more sustainable and people-friendly approach to this decision.
For quite some time, the UPP has been suggesting that the fuel variation charge – which forms a major part of the domestic electricity bill – should be adjusted according to the price of fuel on the world market.
The whole point of the fuel variation charge, Lovell notes, is that the price of fuel varies. Therefore, when the price is high, the charge will increase, and when it goes down, the charge, likewise, will drop. This is the reason it was introduced years ago, he says.
Had the Government been utilizing this method, Lovell says, there would have been no need to offer some customers an amnesty while others receive nothing.
The UPP believes that keeping the cost of electricity low –
by correcting the issue of the fuel variation charge – would have made the payment of utilities much more manageable for the average household, and therefore many who fell into arrears would not have done so.
Lovell says this would have been a more responsible way to manage the country’s resources.
The Party has no issues with certain relief measures, since many people are in urgent need of assistance, Lovell says.
However, he adds that the timing proves the Administration’s motives are sinister, since the UPP’s recommendations for relief were ignored during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet has also decided that unpaid property taxes up to December 31, 2021 will also be wiped off under its amnesty programme, provided that home-owners pay the current year’s tax.
Hospital bills owed to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center, and in arrears for more than 180 days, will also fall under the amnesty programme, and these balances will be forgiven.
Lovell says, again, that all debt forgiveness should have been accorded at a time when most people were feeling the pinch and were in need of such help.