BWS takes the PUC to court Print E-mail
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Thursday, 31 May 2018 00:00

The Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) and the public utilities regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, (PUC) are locked in a court battle after the country’s water company decided that it does not want to reduce water rates by 6.39%. They are trying to get the Supreme Court to void the PUC’s annual rate review proceedings of this year, in which the regulator assessed the company and decided that the Belizean public needs a slight ease on the water bill.

Readers may remember that in January 2018, the PUC first announced that after their annual rate review procedure in which the decrease was decided upon. The regulators determined that Belizeans should see their bill go down from $17.49 for every 1,000 gallons of water used, to $16.37 for that same 1,000 gallons of water.

The PUC felt satisfied that it was a justifiable decrease, and after the initial decision was put out in the public for possible objections, and there were no substantial ones. So, that initial decision became the final decision, and the new water rates should have taken effect on April 1.

Just before that deadline, however, attorneys for the BWS went to the Supreme Court and managed to convince the judge to allow them to urgently apply for judicial review of the PUC’s decision, and an interim injunction against the new rate package. It was an ex-parte application, which meant that the PUC did not know about it until after the court had already granted the interim injunction.

On Monday, May 28, the case went back before Justice Michelle Arana for the first day of the judicial review. It couldn’t move forward because the judge was provided with a massive amount of information pertaining to the case that she needed to review before being able to properly preside over the lawsuit. So, it is has been adjourned until June 18, for full hearing, instead.

Speaking with the press outside of court, Rodwell Williams, the BWS attorney, explained why it is that his client refused the lawful stance of the PUC.

Williams said, “BWS takes the objection to the entire process on the fundamental ground and principle that yes, the PUC has such a power, but any power is subject to law. In this case specifically, the law in question requires that this be done only in exceptional circumstances. In other words, neither the BWS nor the PUC can seek to invoke other new proceedings with a view to lower or raise tariff unless there are exceptional circumstances. The law defines exceptional circumstances, and no exceptional circumstances we say, exist… Therefore, there’s no jurisdiction to have done what was done. It’s as simple as that, and secondly the natural rights of BWS were infringed because they were given absolutely no notice.”

In a press conference earlier this year, PUC Chairman John Avery, said that from their assessment of BWS, they are not satisfied with the company’s performance.