Attorney: RIC cannot dim the lights on freedom of expression
As a lifelong resident of Chaguanas, I attended the public consultation on proposed increased electricity rates held by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) last Wednesday at Centre Point Mall. What I witnessed at this meeting has now confirmed my worst suspicions about the RIC, specifically that these so-called “consultations” are actually a fait accompli.
Public consultations by its definition implies dialogue in the formative stages of crafting policy and/or a working document. It became very clear that the RIC’s position was to defend its already settled document as opposed to genuinely entertaining any representations. This became clear as one RIC presenter began speaking of the rates to be levied soon, which obviously meant that the decision had become a foregone conclusion.
What is alarmingly hypocritical of the RIC is its wolf cry that the meeting had to be stopped because of rowdy behaviour or because its members felt unsafe. Any breakdown in civility took place because an Executive Director of the RIC decided to insult those in attendance by saying that he only recognised two faces in the crowd from Chaguanas. The implication being residents such as myself were not from the area, and therefore our discontent and views were contrived and not genuine. That was classic provocation that was unbecoming of public body attempting to convince the population of its independence.
The RIC’s further suggestion that they felt threatened by a mock coffin is absurd.
Firstly, there were at least 10 police officers present, who allowed the residents to enter with the mock coffin after inspection. Secondly, RIC officials came to the entrance and stated in the presence of several persons that they had no difficulty with the coffin being brought into the room. Thirdly, when the object was placed upright, it elicited no reaction of fear or outrage from members of the RIC who observed the prop and continued with the meeting as per normal. Taken together, these facts demonstrate that the RIC, as the saying goes, is “playing smart with foolishness”.
Perhaps most importantly, these activists were engaging in their own form of Freedom of Expression which should be respected by the RIC. There are members of our community who may not be able to express themselves by providing written submissions or orally articulating a position on a microphone in a crowded room. There are some who prefer to express themselves with signs, placards, and props. These persons should not be left out of the consultative process and have an equal right to express their opinions as they see fit.
In keeping with the best traditions social satire or ole mas, I like many others present, interpreted the coffin to signify the death of the RIC’s independence. That is a powerful statement. While crude to a clearly elitist RIC panel, it was articulate and persuasive to the activists gathered on that day. The RIC cannot invite the public to attend a consultation, then prohibit members of the public from engaging in peaceful expression, refuse all ideas expressed by the public and then curiously blame opposition MPs after it provoked and incited those present with inflammatory conduct.
Attorney at Law