RA ‛not perfect’ but striving for enhanced transparency
The Regulatory Authority is not perfect and won't get everything right, according to its chief executive Denton Williams, but it is striving to enhance its transparency.
In an interview with The Royal Gazette, he spoke about why the Authority spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultancy fees, how it deals with internal conflicts of interest, and its efforts to increase competition in the telecoms sector.
He also said the RA is reviewing a full report on Belco's island-wide power outage in December and will soon have its say on the matter.
This month, the RA denied there was a conflict of interest after a public access of information notice listed Smith Technologies Ltd, a company owned by one of its commissioners, Dion Smith, as having an ongoing contract with the RA.
The company was awarded IT business from the RA before Mr Smith became a commissioner in May 2018, and Mark Fields, RA chairman, said that meant a discussion regarding a conflict of interest was not required at that time.
The company continues to provide IT services to the RA on a month-to-month "cost and charge" basis until a formal request for proposal is conducted, which will be in the current fiscal year, according to Mr Fields.
This week, Mr Williams said: "That contract had been in place before he became a commissioner. It had been reviewed."
He said the work would be put out to tender in due course.
"We had a lot on and that’s why it has not been to the forefront yet, but it will happen," he said.
Mr Williams said it was an independent selection committee that decides who is a commissioner, "and everyone has to declare if they have a conflict of interest or they believe they have a conflict of interest".
He added: "One of the things we are driving for is enhanced transparency. Pretty much everything we do, we put out in the public space. We are required to publish our board minutes and also under Pati we are required to publish pretty standard things like contracts over $50,000, etc.
"But we are going above that, and we have started to have public meetings and we are looking to publish more. We have a real drive to increase transparency. Hopefully we don’t have any more hiccups. We’re not perfect, we won’t get everything right, but at least you get to see it."
The RA is the watchdog body for the island's electricity and telecommunications sector. A Pati notice of its contracts worth $50,000 or more, between April 2019 and March this year, showed hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on consultancy fees.
The RA has five commissioners and a chairman of the board of commissioners.
When asked why the RA does not reduce the number of commissioners if it needs to pay so much to outside consultants, Mr Williams said: "Well, they have a different role. The commissioners are there at the end of the day to review the evidence that has been presented, and the recommendations, and to make a decision. The consultants aren’t going to do that – they will tell you what the options are and come up with solutions, but they are not going to be the ones that decide. Someone has to come up and decide.
"The role of the commissioners is ultimately to make the decision, because a lot of the instruments we produce are basically law."
He added: "The other part of it is that the consultants bring technical expertise. There are aspects that require this expertise, and we literally could not hire all of it. We have been building capacity for a lot of the things that are more frequent, more common, but the things that are unique, that is where we tend to need to depend on consultants. That’s prudent use of consultants."
Mr Williams said the need was a combination of technical expertise and the volume of the work. He added: "It could be a big piece of work, but it comes once every five years or something."
Regarding the December 18 island-wide power outage, Mr Williams said: "Outages for a national utility, no matter where you are, are common – not major outages, but if a neighbourhood goes out, that’s not unusual.
"But the December outage was significant. Belco did submit its report to us, first they submitted an interim report, then they submitted the final report."
Last month, Belco said an oversight in the commissioning of the new $110 million North Power Station and “incorrect operating instructions” sparked the outage. It said the trouble was caused by a loss of power to the controls of the engines at the power station.
Mr Williams said the RA was conducting a multi-stage review to assess the report. He added: "We are still reviewing it and we should be able to issue our thoughts on it in the not too distant future."
The RA approved two new Integrated Communication Operating Licences (ICOLs) and one Submarine Communications Operating Licence in August.
Bermuda now has 14 ICOL holders. Giving customers more options for reliable and competitively priced telecom services is a goal for the RA in issuing new licences.
Mr Williams said: "We have these two new ICOLs – that’s Paradise Mobile and Wave Bermuda, who also trade as Horizon Communications. We believe that both are capable of deploying effective services that would bring competition, and the benefits of that competition to consumers.
"We think there will be some stimulus from this economic activity, to build their networks, etc. And they will likely offer different products and different value from what is available now."