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'Short-sighted!' - Senator questions move to give OUR more powers

Published:Saturday | May 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM

ARGUING THAT consumers do not have much confidence in the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Opposition Senator Tom Tavares-Finson said yesterday that giving the body more powers in the amended Telecommunications Act is short-sighted.

Tavares-Finson labelled as unfettered powers granted to the OUR to set interim wholesale rates and charges for wholesale and retail services. The portfolio minister has no role in the setting of interim rates.

"Here it is that a minister is trying to divest himself of the authority, which in itself is a good thing. But where is the power being divested to? The OUR, an organisation which, with the greatest of respect, there is not a customer of the JPS or the Water Commission who would speak in kind terms of the way in which the OUR has proceeded," Tavares-Finson added.

Significant impact

The opposition senator said granting the OUR the power to set rates could have a significant impact on the telecoms industry and the country's fiscal accounts.

But Tavares-Finson's opposition colleague Kamina Johnson-Smith disagreed with him. She noted that the amended legislation has significantly enhanced the regulator's powers.

"Growth cannot effectively be fostered in the telecoms industry without a strong and independent regulator, otherwise paralysis can be brought about by pressure from (strong) players, by strategies of delay, by failure to provide information and by general manipulation," Johnson-Smith said.

She, however, noted that the concerns expressed by Tavares-Finson are understandable and argued that it is important to strike a balance between facilitating market forces while ensuring proper regulation of the marketplace.

In the meantime, Justice Minister Mark Golding said the OUR would be encouraged to do more to build public confidence.

The Senate passed the bill without amendment. It will now be sent to the governor general for his assent. Golding has called the bill a pioneering and watershed piece of legislation.

Already, the minister with responsibility for telecommunications, Phillip Paulwell, said it will lead to a significant reduction in call rates to consumers.