By Momodou Jarju
The Public Utilities and Regulatory Authority (PURA), has hinted considering changing tactics towards recovering debts owed to them from defaulters of regulatory fees; that this has hampered their activities for the past two years.
The Authority made the suggestion while appearing before the Public Enterprises Committee (PEC) of the National Assembly last week Wednesday, for the review and consideration of its activity reports and financial statements for the year under review 2017 and 2018.
The officials said Government’s public enterprises are the main defaulters and during their presentation last Monday, the officials said both NAWEC and GAMTEL regulatory and compliance fees have not been encouraging; that they have engaged both defaulters in a series of discussion to encourage them to settle their arrears but to no avail.
Gamtel’s total arrears as at 2018 is pegged at forty-six million, one hundred and fifty-two thousand, six hundred and fifty-seven dalasi (D46, 152, 657), while Nawec’s total arrears is at twenty million, three hundred and seven-eight thousand, seven hundred and fifty-five dalasi (D20, 378, 755) in the 2018.
Last Wednesday, the officials told PEC that the approach has to change, saying the laws or regulations are there to be applied.
“And at some point, I think PURA may have to consider taking a harder position on public enterprises. Dues have to be paid and I would be very interested to know when they come before you, whether they would come out clean to say that they owe PURA or other Government agencies pay obligations,” one of the officials said.
The Authority’s management said it would be most gratifying if the National Assembly can also leverage its powers to ensure that public enterprises do not owe each other obligations which they need to pay, and that PURA needs to be seen to be equitably treating all regulated agencies on a level playing field.
The Director of Administration and Finance Paul Mendy said as a management, they can take a hard-line action by going to Court or taking other hard-line steps. He however hinted the august Assembly to help them with guidance on the issue.
The Chairperson of the select committee Halifa Sallah, said whether it is either hard or soft, there has to be a way out. Sallah questioned whether they would be willing to sit down and work on a debt recovery strategy which would eventually become their policy that can inform PEC and everybody else. The management of PURA responded in the positive. “So, when we are accompanying you, we would know that this is the policy. They know it. They decide that they do not care. So, whatever happens would happen,” he said.
Quizzed on what mechanisms they are taking to ensure their debtors pay, the officials said they are trying to engage them to settle their debts. They said most of their debtors are Public Enterprises that are facing serious financial issues, mainly Nawec and Gamtel.
“I could remember at some point, if we engage some of these people, they would tell you we cannot even pay our staff. So that is the issue. It is mainly Nawec and Gamtel and these are public enterprises. The problem is not only with us alone,” the officials said.
Meanwhile, PEC adopted the reports after rigorous consideration and observation despite the absence of the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) report, who were not ready with their report.
Established by an Act of Parliament in 2001, PURA protects the interest of both consumers and service providers within the sectors it regulates, providing guidelines on rates and fees for provision of regulated public services, and monitoring and enforcing standards of performance that promotes fair competition among the sectors.