Sunday 29th July, 2007

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Street lighting as Manning legacy

Prime Minister Patrick Manning was reported on Friday tying up loose ends and planning for five more years in office.

Mr Manning actually has been in continuous possession of the national chief executive position for more than five years already.

On Friday, he must also have weighed the achievements and the failures of his extended period in government.

A comprehensive assessment is due of Manning Administration II, the first being his relatively short-lived 1991-1995 administration.

In the second time around, controversy has attended many of his administration’s decisions and policies.

One little-noted, achievement, however, deserves praise and appreciation for the positive difference it actually has made or potentially can make to the quality of life.

The street lighting programme, implemented by T&TEC in the name of Prime Minister Manning, must itself be recognised as a literally brilliant legacy.

As reported by Public Utilities Minister Pennelope Beckles on Wednesday, 110,000 street lights have been installed or replaced over two years.

The minister did not make clear what the target figure was, or the national geographical extent of the street lighting coverage.

Effective action

But successful mobilisation of the equipment, the labour, materials and other resources, over just two years, to bring light to streets and roadways where darkness had prevailed must count as exemplary performance.

At least in urban and suburban areas, better street lighting must have contributed to safety and security. Brighter roadways have also imparted to long-suffering citizens a sense that the relevant authorities not only care but also are capable of translating such caring into effective action.

Ms Beckles estimated the cost of the programme as $627 million.

Indisputably, improved lighting of the streets and roads was made possible not only by enlightened prime ministerial commitment, but also through the funding of a deep-pocketed state.

As the Public Utilities Minister tells the story, T&TEC at first estimated the Prime Minister’s street lighting programme to take seven or eight years.

Insistent ministerial leadership, however, resulted in T&TEC’s outperforming its own estimates, and outstripping its historical achievements. In 60 years, the electricity commission had installed or replaced just 65,000 street lights.

Responding to the injunction, Let there be light, T&TEC also is busily illuminating parks and recreational facilities.

Meet standards

At a PNM campaign walkabout last week, Ms Beckles had advertised the success of the street lighting programme.

Just, then, however, the Regulated Industries Commission was reporting its authorised findings about the T&TEC financial bottom lines.

It appeared the electricity utility had recorded an $85.5 million deficit, marking the 2005-2006 gap between revenue and expenditure.

Not a sustainable financial performance for a utility charged with securing, in an expanding economy, expanding residential, commercial and industrial needs for electrical power.

As the aggressively watchful regulator, the RIC called attention to the fact that the increased rates it had stipulated for residential light bills had not really been implemented.

The regulator, in pursuance of its statutory mandate, has set standards of performance for T&TEC. To meet such standards of public service and efficiency, however, the utility cannot do without the additional tariff revenue for which the RIC determination also had provided.

The Manning government has blocked implementation of the higher rates for residential electricity users, with predictable ill effects for the T&TEC capacity to do as it has been told.

The RIC also pointedly called attention to the Government’s responsibility to fund power supply developments that it had mandated T&TEC to carry out.

The Prime Minister’s street lighting programme is one such development. While accepting deserved praise for its success, Ms Beckles must undertake to ensure the Government also is seen to put its money where its mouth is.


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