“This government has not demonstrated any maturity and responsibility in its dealings with the Grenada Electricity Services Ltd. (Grenlec)”.
Those words were uttered by former Minister of Finance, Nazim Burke who is the current Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Speaking at a press conference called by Congress to address a possible showdown between the electricity company and the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration, Burke pointed accusing fingers at Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and Works Minister Gregory Bowen as persons with a vendetta against Grenlec.
“What we are seeing in fact is a government led by two men who are bent on destroying Grenlec because of some personal vendetta”, he told reporters.
Burke accused PM Mitchell and Bowen of having “a personal grudge, a personal gripe, which they have harboured in their chests for the last 22 years” against Grenlec and now believe “they have the opportunity to capture it”.
It was the first official reaction by NDC to legislation tabled in Parliament by the NNP administration to set the stage for the liberalisation of the electricity sector in the country.
Under the new legislation, the Minister of Works is empowered to have the final say in the price structure for electricity in Grenada.
The new Electricity Bill (2016), which seeks to break the 80-year Grenlec monopoly, has already received approval from the Lower House of Parliament.
Sen. Burke voiced concern about the manner in which the Mitchell-led government is approaching the reform of the country’s electricity sector.
He outlined some of the consequences, which he believes the move is likely to have on the country as a whole, as indicated by Grenlec in a statement issued subsequent to the May 11 approval of the new Electricity Supply Bill (2016) in House of Representatives.
“We are concerned that the law and the circumstances of its enactment is crude, ill-conceived, and destined to undermine the security of the supply of electricity as well as the business and investment climate in our country,” Sen. Burke told reporters.
He pointed to Grenlec’s own statement, which described the Bill as a “politically motivated, ideologically conceived, totally discretionary framework,” which “will increase the cost of electricity, impair the reliability of electricity, and foster discriminatory treatment to Grenada’s electricity consumers.”
It is Sen. Burke’s view that “Grenlec has captured very well in this statement, both the motive behind the (proposed) law and (its) content.
“The government clearly has an axe to grind with Grenlec,” he said.
The NDC Political Leader also expressed the view that the NNP regime has been trying to destroy the Congress brand, by blaming it for mismanagement of Grenlec prior to the sale of the majority shares to the American company, WRB Enterprises.
Current Works Minister Bowen was hired in the late 1980’s as General Manager of Grenlec, then a state-owned company that fell under the portfolio of Public Utilities held by Dr. Mitchell in the 1984-90 NNP-led government of late Prime Minister, Herbert Blaize.
As Manager of Grenlec, Bowen received a monthly salary of $7,000.00, entertainment allowance of $1,000.00 a month, as well as a company car and free accommodation.
Under Dr. Mitchell’s watch as Works Minister, Bowen also landed another $7000.00 a month job as Manager of another statutory body – Grenada Rock, Asphalt and Concrete Products Ltd.
Sen. Burke accused Bowen of hiding from the public a number of happenings back in the 1980’s when he was a major player with Grenlec.
“Interestingly, Mr. Bowen has been skipping over a number of things”, Sen. Burke said, pointing to the Public Inquiry report into the operations of several statutory bodies that was conducted by retired Barbadian-born high court judge, Justice Lindsay Worrell.
The inquiry was ordered by then Prime Minister Blaize after retired senior civil servant, Clyde Belizaire had conducted a probe into the operations of some statutory bodies and discovered a number of glaring irregularities.
Belizaire had pointed a direct finger at Mitchell’s Public Utilities Ministry for re-opening the bidding process for the supply of bitumen for road works in order to facilitate two additional entries.
According to the report one of the two new bids was granted the contract to import the bitumen.
The person behind the company was late Syrian businessman, Habib Hadeed, known to be a major financial contributor of the Mitchell-led NNP.
Sen. Burke read to reporters an extract from the Worrell report that touched on the manner in which Grenlec operated under the Mitchell/Bowen combination.
He said: “Talking about the company (Grenlec) in (chapter three of the Worrell report), paragraph seven (7)), the commission has had this to say…the minutes of the Board of Directors show that Gregory Bowen
and Dennis Campbell (cousin of Prime Minister Mitchell) took management decisions on the company without prior approval of the Board of Directors and without adhering to the procedures that was set out. As a result the company has suffered considerable financial loss”.
Sen. Burke strongly defended the 1994 sale of Grenlec by the former NDC regime of Sir Nicholas, which Bowen described as “an atrocity against the people”.
“The reality is that the company (Grenlec) that Mr. Bowen managed was a company that was known for its unreliability of electricity supply in the country and when this company was finally sold by the NDC administration it did so as an act really of difficulty created by the very conditions that Mr. Bowen created…”, he said.
“This was a business that was not performing. We (were) not able at the time to provide reliable electricity supply and the government did what it thought was the very right and sensible thing to do,” he added.
The Congress leader also addressed the other terms and conditions of the Grenlec sale agreement, which he believes have been overlooked and should be understood.
“Only 50% of the company was sold,” he said, explaining that “if the company decided to sell its 50%, it is required by the law to sell all its shares as a block…and is required by law to offer the Government of Grenada the first opportunity to buy those shares”.
“…The agreement made arrangements for employees to own shares in the company…the law provided for government to get a 10% discount on its electricity bill…for the company to keep all the equipment insured so that the reliability of electricity is guaranteed shortly after any major catastrophe such as Hurricane Ivan.
“…The law also provided for the company to use 10% of its profits towards the development of community development projects throughout the country and over the last 22 years the company has spent over EC$18M in community development.
“This company (Grenlec) is not a company that is owned entirely and only by WRB…the reality is the company WRB, Grenada Private Power owns 50% of the shares, the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) owns 11.6%, the Government of Grenada owns 10%, Eastern Caribbean Holding Inc owns 11.3% and 17% is widely held by the public including employees of the company.
Sen. Burke said the reality is that Grenlec is a Grenadian company and the profits it generates are earned by Grenadians who get dividends.
“…It (dividend) is paid to them and the reality is that Grenada is benefitting from it,” he declared.
Acknowledging that energy security is a development issue for any country and is “essential for the progress of our nation,” Sen. Burke pointed out that “systems, policies, programmes and laws must be put in place to ensure that there is in fact security of our energy supply and stability for the nation overall.”
However, he said: “It is interesting to observe that since our independence 42 years ago, no person other than Dr. Mitchell has led this country as Prime Minister for more than one (1) term…this government, the New National Party (NNP) administration led by Dr. Keith Mitchell, is now in his fourth term in office and here we are in his fourth term in office and yet this government has still not managed even to put forward a national energy policy for the country.”
Sen. Burke recalled that the former Tillman Thomas-led NDC administration had in 2010, laid out “a clear plan based on eight (8) strategic policy objectives, the first of which was the provision of adequate and affordable energy to all sectors of the society as a prerequisite for a decent quality of life”.
“…We laid out a plan for the country’s energy sector for the period 2010-2020, with measurable indicators and milestones to progress.
In condemning the approach being taken by the Keith Mitchell-led regime in seeking to reform the country’s electricity sector, Sen. Burke expressed the view that “it is possible to negotiate a sensible solution and have a win, win, situation for Grenada.”
He said, the current approach “is destined to undermine the country’s energy security in the long run (as well as) the business environment and the investment climate.”
He called on “the NNP to put a hold on this legislation (Electricity Supply Bill, 2016) and go back to the negotiating table with Grenlec.”