|Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn, is pictured addressing the 9th Annual Organisation of Caribbean Utility Regulators Conference held today at Accra Beach Resort, Rockley, Christ Church. (C.Pitt/BGIS)|
It is important that Barbados seeks wherever possible to move its utility sectors from traditional monopoly structures to competitive industries.
So says Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn, as he delivered the feature address today at the opening Ceremony of the 9th Annual Conference of the Organisation of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR). The three-day conference is being held at the Accra Beach Hotel under the theme: Regulation and Competition: The Impact and Value in the Caribbean.
Senator Benn told his audience of local, regional and international regulators that greater diversification of the resource base and new entrants supplying public services would ultimately lead to a higher quality of services and the improved welfare of consumers. It would also mean a greater ownership of capital and a sense of greater buy-in by our citizens, he added.
"The subject of effective utility regulation is arguably one of the most important issues we are faced with today. Matters of scarce water resources, rising energy prices and convergence in electronic communications all represent weighty challenges for us as we seek to manage the efficient distribution of public goods.
"Today, amidst these unique and very difficult circumstances and in the midst of efforts to foster effective competition, regulators and their Governments are tasked with designing appropriate regulatory frameworks within which to match the supply of utility services to the needs of both the business and residential consumers in as efficient a manner as possible. This is by no means an easy task. Legislators and Regulators are, therefore, keen to promote research efforts such as this in order to identify solutions that will make energy more reliable and secure, provide for more efficient use of water resources and promote greater competition in telecommunications services. This will enhance the efficiency and security of supply of public services," Senator Benn said.
In relation to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), he reiterated Government’s commitment to ICT development both at the local and the regional levels "because of the huge rewards that it promises for our people".
"It is a critical element of our infrastructural development necessary for ensuring that we are well positioned to take advantage of emerging investment opportunities. We acknowledge that individual member states are at varying stages of their liberalisation programmes, but most of us still have much further to go in achieving a fully competitive sector," the commerce Minister pointed out.??
In addition, the senator Benn stated that in this age where telecommunications had provided opportunities to further economic development, liberalisation had helped to lower prices of particular services, such as international calling, mobile communications and internet accessibility.
"In the past cost-based regulation of telecommunications sometimes led to undue capital investment and did not always foster innovation in the sector.?? Barbados and several other countries in the region have, therefore, moved to incentive based regulation for telecommunications", he disclosed.
The Commerce Minister advised that "with the convergence of voice, data and entertainment and their delivery over land lines or broadband networks, regulators must not only cater to new technological developments but must also focus on the continuing need to encourage and ensure competition.?? Regulators must also embrace the next-generation policies and where warranted design regulatory approaches necessary to manage the efficient delivery of these services."
Participants have been drawn from over 10 countries and comprise local, regional and international regulators, utility companies, the World Bank and CARICOM.
The conference will come to a close on Friday.