“Stop playing the victims!”
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales lobbed this call to Opposition MPs yesterday after they complained about service to their areas– particularly on street lighting.
He rattled off a list of UNC constituencies which received attention.
Gonzales spoke in Parliament when his ministry’s $2.55 billion budget allocation was examined at Standing Finance Committee level.
However, Gonzales clashed with Opposition MPs on various issues with Finance Minister Colm Imbert also sparring with them at points.
In an overview, Gonzales said utilities in the pandemic were even more essential but the future – though daunting –portends a reliable water supply.
Utilities are also feeling the impact of climate change so the situation can’t be business as usual, but they’re being transformed into being “future-focused” and “ client -centric.”
He said transformation was imperative to a customer-centric, self-sufficient state with special focus on the underserved, unserved and particularly the vulnerable.
UNC’s Dave Tancoo noted Gonzales’ ministry had owed the Electricity Commission (T&TEC) over $176million.
Gonzales said his ministry has $40million to address street lighting and other requests and any outstanding arrears would be paid.
He noted at the end of March T&TEC was owed $36 million.
Tancoo said, “The maths really aren’t adding up chief, you’ll only barely meet the arrears out of the $40 million.”
Gonzales said if more was needed, it could be dealt with in the 2022 mid-year review. UNC’s Rudy Indarsingh then pressed Gonzales whether he’d ordered T&TEC not to service Opposition areas.
“That’s absurd!’’ Gonzales replied.
He said every constituency was served. “This side and the other side,” he added, referring to Government and Opposition.
Indarsingh continued: “I’m putting it to you that you instructed T&TEC’s Board to do so (serve Opposition areas).
“Someone is misleading you,” Gonzales replied. He’d sparred earlier with Indarsingh who’d warned Gonzales not to violate T&T’s labour laws.
Gonzales had shot back, “Of course I wouldn’t take any advice from you!”
Gonzales said whatever funds the ministry received was used equitably and wasn’t decided by whether a constituency was PNM or UNC.
He said based on information he’d seen in the ministry a lot of constituencies had gotten street lighting in Opposition areas which he said he could list, “So stop playing the victim.”
Rattling off constituencies which included mostly UNC areas, he said he didn’t see Diego Martin West or other PNM held seats on the list .