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RA to undergo legislative reform after hike in power costs

Too much too soon: home affairs minister Walter Roban has insisted that electricity prices will come down ‒ even though the body that sets rates is independent of government (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government is to make changes to the way the Regulatory Authority and electricity supplier Belco operate to “provide for greater public protections” against dramatic price hikes.

The announcement — made during last Friday’s Throne Speech — came in the wake of a 20 per cent increase in electricity fees announced by Belco last month. The Regulatory Authority ratified the increase, claiming that it was necessary to offset the increasing global price of fuel.

Details of the proposed amendments were not given in the Throne Speech, which acknowledged that the energy sector was “complex where pricing is influenced by global and local factors”.

It added: “The Government will advance amendments to the Regulatory Act 2022 [and] the Electricity Act 2016 … to provide for greater public protections in pricing determination and implementation.”

Following last month’s shock rise, the Government stepped in to demand why the RA, an independent body funded by the public purse, had endorsed the increase.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, later emphatically insisted that the increase would be scaled back “in the immediate future” and that the RA would change its methodology when calculating fuel prices in future.

But Mr Roban was also forced to admit that, under existing law, it would be illegal for the Government to interfere or influence the RA in its decisions.

He said: “The RA operates independently. We have no role in the process that they do in fulfilling their duties as the regulators of licensed entities.

“The law is very clear and you can go to the regulatory act and see the role of the minister. I cannot direct or interfere with the RA in their role of regulating any particular entity. That is against the law. If I do it I am breaking the law and I will never break the law.”

And in an apparent backtrack at the end of last month, Mr Roban told a public meeting that both the Government and the RA were now only considering “potential” ways in which costs could be cut, and that all stakeholders ‒ including Belco and oil importers — would do so independently of each other.

The Government has strived to contain the cost of electricity and other essential goods in recent months in a bid to keep the lid on “economic circumstances that defy private sector norms and government intervention”.

“Forty-year-high global inflation has compounded the inequalities prevalent in our system, creating conditions that make sustaining one’s basic needs a daily, weekly, and monthly struggle”, the Throne Speech said.

The Tax Reform Commission — set up in 2020 — will “continue to fulfil the Government’s commitment to examine existing taxes and make recommendations for the changes necessary to reduce the cost of living and the cost of doing business in Bermuda”.

More products may be added to the list of “essential” household items that are exempt from customs duty.

The Government will also continue its affordable housing programme, which has been an ongoing policy, in which derelict homes will are repurposed and refurbished before being put on the market.

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Published November 06, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated November 06, 2023 at 8:30 am)

RA to undergo legislative reform after hike in power costs

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