Don't make politicians and utility companies capture the regulatory watchdog - outgoing OUR head warns
Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
Days before he was forced out of his job as director general of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Ahmad Zia Mian issued a chilling warning that immediate steps must be taken to prevent the entity from being captured by politicians or utility companies.
Mian, who has made no secret that he wanted to continue in the job which he held for four years, issued the warning last Tuesday as he packed his bags to leave.
After being given a three-year contract during the Jamaica Labour Party administration, Mian was kept on for only one year by Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell after the People's National Party's victory in the 2011 general election.
Last week, Mian declared that he held no bitterness towards Paulwell, but he could hardly hide his disappointment that he was not given more time to complete his job.
CHANGES HE WANTED
Among the changes he wanted were the establishment of the long-proposed single regulator and increased enforcement powers for the OUR.
Mian fired a parting shot during an exit interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week as he warned of the danger the country faces if politicians or utility companies were allowed to dictate the actions of the OUR.
"The risk the regulatory agencies face is that of capture, and the capture can come from the utilities with the regulator taking their side," said Mian.
"Or the capture can come from the Government, which means that the ministers or the politicians interfere with the work of the regulating agencies which ought to be independent," added Mian.
He argued that the way the OUR Act is now drafted, it gives some power to the political directors.
"Politicians like to control and they like to control regulators. The independence of the regulator cannot be assured if it has to report to a minister," said Mian, who noted that former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson had moved the OUR to report to the Cabinet Office instead of to an individual minister.
But Mian said that is not enough and the introduction of a single regulator for broadcast activities, utilities and spectrum management should be moved on urgently.
"What has happened is that there is more than a conversion of IT (information technology), there has also been a conversion of utilities so that tomorrow's electricity company will not only be doing electricity, it will also be doing telecommunications."
Mian told The Sunday Gleaner that if a single regulator is established, the cost of regulating would be reduced and efficiencies would be achieved.
COULD MANAGE WORKLOAD
He said if the OUR was to give up the regulation of the telecommunications sector only four or five people would lose their jobs while a new agency to regulate that sector would need 30 or 40 staff members.
"I can take the spectrum management now and that would add only two persons to my (the OUR) staff," argued Mian who claimed that many other countries around the world have moved into that direction.
He said the OUR has already made the proposal for a single regulator to the Government and has drafted proposed amendments to the legislation which governs its operations.
"The power of the OUR will come from its ability to ensure that the utilities comply with its directives, right now the regulator does not have the power to ensure compliance," declared Mian
He noted that if the OUR makes a ruling, which is ignored by a utility company, it has no option but to take that entity to court.
"And if I take them to the court - you know how long that takes - the OUR cannot implement something that is before the court," lamented Mian.
The former World Bank employee has ended his stint at the OUR mired in controversy over the regulator's decision to put the brakes on plans by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to establish a 360-megawatt plant in Old Harbour, St Catherine.
Under Mian, the OUR ruled that the JPS had breached the terms of its agreement and a new request for proposal should be issued for the 360MW.
Paulwell has argued that the JPS submitted a new proposal to the OUR which should have been considered before a decision was made.