UTILITIES ASSISTANCE PROGRAMME
MINISTRY OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Ministry of the Public Utilities (MPU) is responsible for ensuring that all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are provided with public utility services that are efficient, cost-effective, modern, customer-oriented and technology-enabled. These services include electricity, post, water, sewerage and telecommunications. The Ministry of Public Utilities acknowledged that many persons due to their social and economic circumstances were not able to afford the basic cost of utilities. As part of the Ministries’ effort to deliver quality utility services to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, the MPU implemented specific intervention programmes which seek to provide basic utility services to low income households and under-served communities. It was realised that such interventions required a multi-faceted approach to improving the standard of living focusing on the poor and vulnerable to improve their access basic services such as electricity and water. The UAP started in December 2010 and encapsulated the then Hardship Relief Programme which started in June 1997 and targeted old age pensioners and recipients of Public Assistance for assistance with the payment of their Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) bills. Initially, the Ministry of Public Utilities sought to address the inability of these low income customers to afford the cost of a water supply, which is a basic resource, by providing a subsidy on water bills to persons at the very lowest economic strata. Further in 2010, the UAP also sought to action the recommendation by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) in its determination, “Regulation of Electricity Transmission and Distribution, June 2006 to May 2011” to assist persons who would be unable to afford the increased cost of electricity. As such, The Ministry of Public Utilities implemented the Utilities Assistance Programme which sought to assist both water and electricity customers with payment of utility bills. In 2012, the Ministry held discussions with the Ministry of Health during its participation in the Multi-Sectoral Committee on the Social Determinants of Health. The Ministry of Health indicated that research conducted showed that communities and households that were faced with a chronic under-supply of water and who depended heavily on rainwater and/or a truck borne water supply were at a greater risk of contracting the dengue virus. The Ministry of Health indicated that 90% of all dengue transmitting Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes were found in and around homes and 70% were found in water storage containers. It was noted that many low-income families across Trinidad and Tobago were unable to afford water tanks and store water in open barrels, in which the denque-carrying mosquito can easily enter and breed. The Ministry decided to explore methods for addressing the ongoing issue of poor water storage in underserved communities. The Ministry then implemented the Water Tank Assistance component as it was realised that there were a number of households that that stored water in unsuitable containers and who suffered from poor water supply. Similarly, it was found that despite the 98% electricity coverage by the electricity provider throughout the country, there were some households that were unable to access the electricity due to location, terrain or high cost of implementation. It was therefore decided that the Ministry would seek to implement a Solar Panel Assistance Programme as part of its Utility Assistance Portfolio. As such, the Ministry of Public Utilities implemented a Utility Assistance Programme that sought to address the following problems within the Utility Sector: 1. The inability of many low income persons to afford continued access to basic utility services of water and electricity which resulted in the disconnection of these services and persons having to live without; 2. Households storing water in unsuitable containers which allowed contaminations and infestation by mosquitoes and other pathogens. This occurrence contributed to the spread of the dengue epidemic; 3. Households living without an electricity supply to undertake basic household activities.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Ministry of Public Utilities through its Utilities Assistance Programme provides assistance to low income utility customers to ensure their continued access to basic utilities. As such the Ministry provides Utility Bill Assistance on water and electricity bills in addition to providing water tanks to low income families to ensure proper water storage and solar panel systems to provide an alternate supply of electricity.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The Utility Assistance Programme Initiative has greatly improved the lives of its beneficiaries in a variety of ways. Firstly, the Programme ensures that many low income utility customers are now able to benefit from a continued water and electricity supply as their bill is subsidized. it provides a means of cushioning the effects of the rising cost of living including that of electricity and water costs as a means of enhancing the real and predominantly fixed income of beneficiaries. Further, the Utility Assistance Programme specifically targets those persons within society such as the elderly and the disabled to whom access to these basic water and electricity services are critical. It must be noted that by ensuring that these electricity and water utility bills are subsidized, these low incomes are no longer at risk of being disconnected due to the inability to pay these utility bills. The Utility Assistance Programme through the water tank assistance component now provides safe water storage to many low income households who would have otherwise been unable to afford this facility. The programme by providing these water tanks also assist in reducing the spread of mosquito-borne and pathogen-related diseases in high risk communities which do not receive a reliable supply of water. These households are now able to store their water supply in a safe manner that prevents access by mosquitoes. It was found that many of these households normally store their water used for drinking and household chores in open barrels which allowed access not only to mosquitoes but also bacteria and other pathogens. This initiative is in keeping with the Millennium Development Goal of providing sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to the population. Therefore, the Ministry provision of a one-time assistance of a water tank and related fittings to ow income households and community based facilities within affected communities now ensures their access to a safely stored water supply. The Utility Assistance Programme through its Solar Panel Assistance Component also have improved the lives of many households who live in inaccessible terrain or remote locations such as heavily forested areas. Many of these households were using outdated methods such as torches, kerosene lamps and flashlights. These households were otherwise unable to access electricity in such remote areas where it was uneconomical and in some cases unfeasible to supply an electricity service. The supply and installation of a Solar Panel system within these homes in remote communities, now allows them to undertake basic household tasks such as cold food storage, ironing. This facility has been especially beneficial to school age children and the elderly who are now able to study at nights and in the case of the elderly they can now store medication as required. who are unable to access the electricity grid in order to ensure their access to an electricity supply.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Utility Assistance Programme has proven to be quite innovative and creative in the solutions extended to utility customers throughout the country. The Programme is a ground-breaking programme and has been ingeniously designed to fulfil the Ministry’s mandate by improving access to utilities by citizens with specific attention being paid to low-income persons within the society. Given that there are households living in remote areas that are unable to access the electricity, the Solar Panel Assistance component uses renewable energy as a means of providing this off-grid electricity to remote areas. In some cases, the electrical infrastructure could not have been installed due to the locations or in some cases the cost-benefit analysis for installing this infrastructure proved it to be unfeasible. The Solar panel therefore uses an environmentally friendly and cost effective method for providing electricity to these communities. As it pertains to the beneficiaries of the water tank facility, many of these households are living on state lands without the legal requirements for accessing a pipe borne water supply. These communities were also most at risks for water related disease and other health and sanitation issues. This strategy has therefore allowed the Ministry to provide safe water storage to low income households regardless of land tenure. The Bill Assistance component of the programme is implemented through collaboration with the utility agencies with advice and verification by the social services arm of Government. This ensures that the benefit is applied directly to the utility bills of qualified customers. These programme is closely monitored to ensure compliance as a means of reducing abuse.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Utilities Assistance Programme is implemented by the Customer Service Unit of the Ministry of Public Utilities. The Ministry is charged with the responsibility for the effective and efficient leadership and governance of the delivery of Public Utilities Services to the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago. As such, the Ministry ensures that Trinidad and Tobago's utility sector which includes water, sewerage, electricity, post and telecommunications is modern, customer oriented and technologically enabled to provide effective, cost efficient quality services to all citizens. The Ministry also ensures that the agencies under its purview practice prudent financial management. The Ministry is dedicated to its vision to achieve excellence in the delivery of Public Utilities for the sustainability of the country and improving the quality of life of citizens. The Ministry has realised that facilitating the effective delivery of efficient, affordable and quality Public Utilities Services must be undertaken in close collaboration with all stakeholders. With this in mind the Ministry understands that its effectiveness as a Ministry depends on the ability of all citizens to access these services. As at February 2017, the Ministry has provided assistance through the Utilities Assistance Programme to 13,721 households or approximately 45,709 beneficiaries.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
In order to implement the Utilities Assistance Programme, the Ministry established a Committee to assess any similar programmes provided, undertake research on the current situation and to scope the intended beneficiary population, evaluate the recommendations made by the Regulated Industries Commission and put forward recommendations for the Programme’s implementation. In the course of the Committee’s exercise, the team met with various stakeholders including the Utility Regulator, Water and Electricity utility agencies and the Social Services. Once the proposal was developed this was presented to all stakeholders for comments and ratification. Following the approval of the Programme Policy by Government, an Action Plan was developed and shared with the two Utility agencies which included timelines for meeting particular implementation milestones. The Ministry also ensured that a source of funding was established through the Ministry of Finance. The Programme is finance under the Ministry’s Recurrent Expenditure which is financed by the Government’s Consolidated Fund. At the time of implementation of the Utilities Assistance Programme, a Technical Advisory Committee was also established which is responsible for ensuring that all approvals for assistance under the programme are in keeping with the Programme policy. The Committee is comprised of a cross-section of technical and administrative officers within the Ministry and is headed by the Permanent Secretary. It provides programme oversight and ensures adherence to policy. Reports are provided on programme achievements and challenges to implementation. This committee also has responsibility for identifying priority and extenuating circumstances applicable to applications for granting approvals for assistance under the UAP; approving the selection of suppliers of goods and services under the UAP’s Water Tank and Solar Panel Assistance; identifying the need for policy and programme changes to the UAP for recommendation to the Cabinet; and ensuring that the necessary monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are implemented for the UAP. This committee has ensured that a revised Programme policy was submitted for approval by Government when necessary and that the required Programme status reports are submitted. The Ministry has built in monthly, quarterly and annual reporting within the Utilities Assistance Programme. Reports are submitted on a monthly basis to the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Ministry of Public Utilities for evaluation. This evaluation is submitted to the Permanent Secretary who is the Ministry’s Accounting Officer and to the Ministry of Public Utilities. It should be noted that an annual programme evaluation is undertaken which identifies the Programmes, achievements against its annual objectives and takes into consideration programme challenges. Recommendations are made for addressing any challenges or amending programme strategies a s a means of improving programme delivery. Quarterly Reports on the Programme are also submitted to external bodies such as the Ministry of Planning and Development and the Ministry of Social Development who submit reports to the Cabinet and the Parliament on the operations of the Programme. The implementation of the programme also built in a Public Education deliverable which sought to share information with the intended applicants on the programme benefits, means of access and requirements for approval. This public education campaign included Advertisements using various media such as radio, television and newspaper, Public Outreach Campaigns throughout various communities in Trinidad and Tobago; Constituency Sensitisation Training initiative which sought to provide detailed information on the various utility assistance programmes offered by the Ministry to assist such these offices to better serving their constituents; Partnership with other Government Ministries and agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services and Ministry of Community Development.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The key stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of the Utilities Assistance Programme included firstly a cross sectional team of technical professionals within the Ministry of Public Utilities. This team was responsible for undertaking research on the current issues which affected the low income customers within the utility sector. This involved meetings with the utility regulator to get a better understanding of the expected effect that the increased utility would have on particular customers. The committee also researched and identified the intended beneficiary population in conjunction with the Social Services Ministry and made recommendations to the Minister of Public Utilities for its implementation. The Utility agencies for electricity and water were also key stakeholders in the process as they were engaged to better understand the extent to which they could implement the subsidy application, the barriers to implementations and to identfiy whether any changes needed to be made to either the Ministry’s operating procedures or that of these agencies. In its implementation the Ministry have also engaged and made modifications to the Programme based on recommendations made by civil service and interest groups such as the Blind Welfare Association and the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Retired People. Whenever changes are made to the Programme these have always been communicated to a wide cross- section of stakeholders to ensure information is shared in a timely manner.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
With the implementation of the Utilities Assistance Programme (UAP) by the Ministry of Public Utilities, clear deliverables could be seen by the inclusion of a social protection programme catering to the poor and vulnerable. From a macro perspective, it must be noted that within recent times, the economy experienced a major shortfall in oil prices which resulted in an increase in consumer deliverables such as electricity and water. To promote economic and sustainable development, reduction in poverty is seen as one of the main SDG 2015 deliverable. Consequently, the Ministry’s ability to provide yearly a reliable source of electricity, water storage and bill assistance for successful applicants of the programme, signifies its increasing success. The implementation of the UAP delivery system in particular the Solar Panel component, saw the improvement in the lives of beneficiaries by allowing a safer environment and critical household tasks to be conducted, proper storage of food and medication as well as improvement in educational performance of persons living in remote communities, forested and hilly locations. Further, the Ministry’s ability to provide many low income utility customers with monthly bill assistance demonstrates success as it provides a means of cushioning the effects of the rising cost of living. This programme provided a means of enhancing the real and predominantly fixed income of beneficiaries resulting in a shift in disposable income to more critical areas such as the purchasing of food and medication. In addition, by facilitating the continued supply of water and electricity to programme beneficiaries, these vulnerable persons are no more at risk of losing access to these basic utility services. Such persons were previously subject to numerous and repeated disconnection of utility services due to their inability to pay. The provision of proper water storage facility to low income persons also contributed to minimizing health and safety issues as beneficiaries and communities targeted were most at risks for water related disease and other health and sanitation issues. The outputs of the programme increased the welfare of the recipients’ ability to lead normal lives, where hardship would have otherwise been experienced and it therefore stands to reason that the programme itself was effective having meet its objectives.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The implementation of the Utilities Assistance Programmes has faced a number of challenges. These challenges include but are not limited to manpower and staffing issues, administrative challenges and issues with reaching its target population. One administrative challenge faced was that of inadequate staffing to administer the various components of the programme. The Unit responsible for programme delivery is also charged with the responsibility of varied other functions within the Ministry. Despite the various changes and expansions made to the programme between 2010 to 2013 which included the addition of new categories of beneficiaries and new components there was very little manpower added to undertake duties related to the programme. This is despite the expanded Utilities Assistant Programme, requiring additional tasks such as those related verification of applicants, site visits, procurement processes, contract management and project implementation. The Ministry in recent time has sought to add additional Personnel inclusive of a Project Officer, Senior Administrative Officer and have also re-engineered a number of tasks throughout the Unit to ensure that programme related duties are properly assigned. A key challenge faced by the programme is the inability of some low income persons to meet some of the programme criteria as it does not always facilitate the provision of assistance to some of the needy households. One such obstacle is persons exceeding the electricity consumption level of 600 kwh per month, despite needing the assistance. Another obstacle observed would be the situations where persons are unable to access the water tank facility because they have a pipe borne water connection. The programme criteria reserves this facility for persons who do have a pipe-bone water supply and as such these people do not qualify for the water tank assistance despite being in a situation of suffering from unreliable supply of water. Conversely, there are also situations where persons may be without a water supply but are already in possession of a small water tank. The programme’s policy needs to be revised to take into consideration situations where the size of the family water storage is insufficient for their daily needs. In such cases the provision of a tank would have alleviated the circumstances. In order to address these challenges, a Root-Cause Analysis was undertaken and proposals developed to address specific challenges. These proposals are currently being evaluated with the intention to modify the Programme policy for implementation.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The implementation of the Utilities Assistance Programme (UAP) has directly impacted the lives of the Programme in a number of ways. The main objective was to provide new and or improved utility services to the poorest and most vulnerable persons in society One area has been its impact on relieving economic hardships. Research has proven that there is a strong correlation between economic and sustained growth and the reduction of poverty, with attention paid specifically to increases in income per capita. With the implementation of this programme, there is compelling evidence in the form of the number of persons accessing the programme and the redistribution of resources amongst the needy to suggest an increase in economic growth. During the cycle of the UAP, post evaluations were conducted as a means to measure the impact of the services offered. These measures took the form of post site visits, number of assistance provided in the various components, and feedback via public and other outreach forums. All three (3) components of the UAP provide direct benefits to recipients through the provision of water and electricity subsidies, water tanks and solar panel systems. The Programme to date has provided water bill subsidies to 12,203 households and an electricity subsidy to 1,240 households. The Programme’s aim to improve the standard of living of these beneficiaries is believed to be successful, as they saw an increase in disposable income that can be utilized in other areas. The Bill Assistance subsidy automatically applies the subsidy to the beneficiaries’ accounts therefore providing a security blanket for the elderly, disabled and low income earners. As a result, they would not have the additional burden of delving deeply into their only source of income. From a psycho-social perspective, the way in which the programme is delivered does not reflect as a “hand out” which could degenerate a person’s self-worth. In fact, it may be perceived as the government’s way of extending “protection” in a dignified manner. The Water Tank Assistance since its inception in fiscal 2014 has provided assistance in the form of water tanks to 253 households or 860 persons. The provision of safe storage of water in high risk communities to reduce the spread of water-borne diseases caused by health and sanitation issues, which do not receive a supply of water and have unsuitable storage facilities, should not be under-emphasized. With the influence of the UN SDG Goal 2015 “Universal access to safe potable water, the Ministry within its strategic framework, felt it necessary to provide low income households and community based facilities with the assistance of a water tank to ensure access to a safely stored water supply. This has accelerated the health gains associated with safe drinking water whilst progress is being made by the Utility sector to improve the infrastructure for a consistent water supply. The Solar Panel Assistance which delivered its first solar panel in September 2015 has since installed solar panels in 5 households benefitting approximately 17 persons. There are currently seven such projects under implementation. The Solar Panel Assistance has provided an alternate source of electricity to households who are unable to access an electricity supply due to their remote location or it being uneconomical or unfeasible to provide the supply an electricity. This has not only made use of a non-renewable source producing significant public health benefits but has also contributed to the well-being of the recipients by improving their overall standard of living by providing safety and security in terms of lighting; improving food safety by the use of cold storage; allowing children to achieve their educational pursuits without hindrance and encouraging recreational use of electronics such as the computer, television and radio.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
While the Utility Assistance Programme was not specifically geared towards improving integrity and accountability in the public service, its impact has redounded to some of these benefits. The Programme facilitates feedback from beneficiaries on the implementation of each project during and after implementation. This information which is submitted via reports is used to inform policies and plans for the Utility sector. The Programme staff also interacts with elected representatives such as local government councillors and the members of the public at the offices of the Members of Parliament. This allows for feedback to be given directly to the programme staff on how the applicants and beneficiaries feel about how the programme is being delivered, the improvements that should be made and the obstacles faced in accessing benefits.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
While the Utilities Assistance Programme was not designed to specifically target women and girls, our programme reports reflect that most of the Programme’s beneficiary households include women and children. It has also been found that most applicants under the Water Tank component are women and single mothers who either rely on a single income, a government grant from the Public Assistance or Widow’s benefit in order to maintain their household. By cushioning the costs of basic utilities and providing access to the storage of clean potable water and electricity, it is expected that these women would be able to improve their quality of live and standard of living. It is with this hope that the women and girls who benefit from the programme will be empowered to improve their living conditions and overall standard of living. As it pertains to the Water Tank and Solar panel components of the Programme, special consideration is given to household that include school age children and the elderly. A key objective of the programme since inception has been its focus on the elderly and disabled persons as these were the original intended beneficiaries of these programmes. The programme was however expanded to include other low income households as it was found that there were also other categories of persons such a single parent households and other configurations that were also living in extreme poverty. Such situations could not be overlooked by the Ministry and have also been included within the Programme.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   MINISTRY OF PUBLIC UTILITIES
Institution Type:   Ministry  
Contact Person:   MAURICIA PEGUS
Title:   MANAGER CUSTOMER SERVICES  
Telephone/ Fax:   868 628 9500
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   mpegus@mpu.gov.tt  
Address:   ONE ALEXANDRA ST CLAIR
Postal Code:  
City:   PORT OF SPAIN
State/Province:  
Country:  

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