Accusations of payroll mingling between companies of Innovative Communications Corp. – including the nearly tax-exempt V.I. Telephone Corp. – and the impending sale of the Water and Power Authority underscore more than ever the need for the governor to appoint strong, public-minded individuals to the Public Services Commission.
The PSC used to be a board dedicated to protecting consumers. But in recent years PSC members have been more concerned with protecting the utilities they oversee and regulate than with protecting the public interest.
This has to change.
The people named to the PSC must understand the commission’s role as the territory’s consumer protector. They must be able to see through the smokescreens thrown up by high-paid officials and lobbyists for the utilities. They must be financially savvy enough to know how big businesses manage their books — and if they don’t understand a given issue, they need to be smart enough to call in experts who can dig through the obfuscations to get at the truth.
They also need to be above reproach — there should be no questions about the character, loyalty or integrity of those chosen to serve on this important board.
As recent news reports have made clear, there are issues involving the territory’s utilities that need to be reviewed. For example, is the V.I. Telephone Corp. carrying non-Vitelco employees on its payroll, as a St. Croix attorney has charged?
Other issues that have not made headlines also beg to be looked at, including how Vitelco’s bottom line is affected when it seemingly is one of the biggest advertisers in a newspaper that belongs to the same man who owns Vitelco. The phone company’s profits are regulated and limited by law. Is Vitelco allowed, under its IDC benefits or within the PSC regulations, to deduct those ads as a business expense while putting thousands of dollars into the coffers of a sister company – thus reducing the profits of the regulated company? We don't know, but we think the practice calls for public scrutiny.
And how will ratepayers be affected if WAPA is sold to the Southern Co., as seems more and more likely? Is the fact of government employees and commissioners sitting on the WAPA board a conflict of interest? And will we have a strong PSC to make sure consumers are adequately protected if WAPA’s new owners, despite their current protestations, push for rate hikes?
The time is long past due for the governor to make new appointments to the PSC, which continues to function with members whose terms have expired and in some cases whose performance has created suspicion and mistrust.
In fact, this should be one of the governor’s highest priorities.


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