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BSWL’s legal challenge against PUC’s decision proceeds in court

Also in court today before Justice Michelle Arana is a case brought against the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by Belize Water Services Limited, (BWSL). As we have reported, BWSL is challenging the PUC’s decision to reduce the water rate. That reduced water rate was supposed to have been in effect this past April but, with BWSL’s legal challenge, an injunction was granted. Today the parties appeared before Justice Arana. Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams appeared for BWSL. Williams explained BWSL’s position.

Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams, Attorney for BWSL:  “As you may recall, the matter concerned a purported exercise of its power to conduct an interim review proceedings and two as a result of which it decreed a reduction in water rates by the PUC. BWS takes an 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 and in this case specifically, the law in question requires that this be done only in exceptional circumstance example, neither BWS nor the PUC can seek to invoke annual review proceedings with a view to lower or raise tariff unless there are exceptional circumstances and the law defines exceptional circumstances and no exceptional circumstances we say exists and therefore there is no  jurisdiction to have done what was done. It’s as simple as that and secondly the natural rights of BWS were infringed because it was given absolutely no notice in fact we say that is was initially invited to do an IRP and it declined and then the PUC simply went about without notice, conducted an IRP and we are now challenging their infringement of the law in doing so in the absence of exceptional circumstances. Once you arrive at a final decision by the PUC there is a process to challenge the outcome by appointing an expert and the expert decision is not even binding on the PUC. We are in fact challenging the entire procedure. We are saying you can’t invoke this procedure unless there are exceptional circumstances because we are still within the full tariff review period which is 2015 to 2020. It has not yet expired and yes you have power to do an IRP or an Annual Review Proceedings. It’s actually an Interim Review Proceedings, IRP.  So we are not doubting their legal right to do so; you have a right given to you by law. The law will also tell you the circumstances by which you can exercise that right and we are saying they are not exercising the right they have based on the law because the law says you do so if there are exceptional circumstances. It sets out a few and it says those circumstances must be outside the control of the licensee BWS and even after the fact, circumstances that they have allude to are not exceptional and they are not circumstances that are outside the control of BWS as existing control outside of the PUC. So for those reasons and to get to the specifics of your question really because I think I didn’t address it directly; a deluge of material was thrown at the judge over the weekend; Friday and this morning. In fact she only saw it this morning and she felt that in light of the volume of material which she had not had an opportunity to go over she would prefer to adjourn the matter further.”

According to Williams, the injunction stands and the next court date is June 18. The PUC has mandated that there should be a rate reduction of six point three percent.