The New National Party (NNP) controlled Parliament has approved a new Electricity Supply Bill for the operations of the sector in Grenada.
The bill which was assured of passage in the lower house of Parliament given the NNP’s 15-0 victory at the 2013 general elections, seeks to end the monopoly of the Grenada Electricity Company (GRENLEC) in the supply of electricity to the island.
The bill is intended to end GRENLEC’s 80-year monopoly status which it was granted in a 1994 sale agreement struck by the then ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite and United States-based company, WRB Enterprises Inc.
The Electricity Supply Bill, 2016 is being described by government ministers as a “landmark” development for the country.
The bill, once it comes into effect, will repeal and replace the 1994 Electricity Supply Act, that provides for Grenlec to maintain its monopoly up to 2073.
Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, Gregory Bowen, who piloted the bill during last week Wednesday’s sitting explained that it provides a platform for the sector in domestic and foreign investment, new projects and facilities for the generation of electricity from renewable energy resources like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, wave and tidal sources.
Minister Bowen, who holds the portfolio for Public Utilities, was critical of the “terrible conditions” under which the NDC government conducted the sale of 50% of the shares of the company to WRB at a price of just over “US$5 million.”
He spoke of the negative impact that the sale has been having on Grenadians and the economy because Grenlec has not been regulated in the past 22 years.
“The NDC is to be blamed… for 22 years the NDC action has depressed the economy and stifled economic activities,” he said.
The Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been advising Grenada over the years hat it needed to address the high cost of energy as part of initiatives to develop the economy.
According to Minister Bowen, Grenada did not need the IMF or its affiliate the World Bank to tell the country that until it addressed the energy situation the growth expected will not be realized.
The senior government minister alluded to what he described as the excessive monopoly status of Grenlec in the event of government wanting to buy back the company from the American majority shareholder.
This, he said was never brought before the country’s Parliament for debate and included a prohibitive compensation package that government had to meet in order to reacquire the electricity company.
Minister Bowen pointed that the new electricity bill “will remove some of the chains,” especially, with the introduction of a National Electricity Policy for the very first time, which will be charged with the responsibility to regulate electricity rates.
According to Bowen, the policy, provided for under the new Public Utilities Regulatory Commission Act (PURCA) that was simultaneously introduced with the Bill “gives the PURCA/Commission, the power to set the electricity rates” and also has the responsibility of “advising the minister” accordingly.
“In fact, one commission was there before and they (NDC) obliterated that commission by passing an amendment, which says if a certain law (and that is the law they (WRB) gave them (NDC government of 1994) to go to parliament with) that this is the way we compute rates then the commission cannot interfere with that.
“So the commission was there doing nothing…and has resigned,” he said, adding that the new Commission that will now be put in place “will set rates that are chargeable by licencees for the supply of electricity and other services.”
In addition to serving as the economic regulator of the sector with responsibility for “all rate setting,” the Commission is tasked with the enforcement of the terms of all licences for the supply of electricity, the resolution of consumer and self-generator complaints, the receipt and processing of all licence applications.
Additionally, Bowen said the Minister with responsibility for the sector is the one to make the final decisions on granting, modifying, extending, suspending and terminating licences; govern the electricity sector, approving network licensees etc.
Member of Parliament for the Town of St. George, Health Minister Nickolas Steele was also critical of NDC’s decision to sell the majority shares of GRENLEC to WRB Enterprise.
He noted that when the sale took place, the only member of the then administration to oppose it was Minister for Public Utilities Phinsley St Louis who was the Member of Parliament for St. George South.
“Can you imagine how much easier it would have been in the last 20 years for any government to have purchased medicine, to have paid increments, to have built roads and houses had we not as a nation been shackled by this (Grenlec monopoly)?
Prior to the privatisation of Grenlec, a major portion of the company’s profits went into the pockets of its management staff.
Information provide to a commission of Inquiry into the operations of Grenlec showed that in 1989 alone, eighteen persons in management went home with a total of $148, 650.61 from Grenlec in the form of profit sharing.
The biggest slice of $16, 586, 50 went to the then General Manager of Grenlec, current Public Utilities Minister Gregory Bowen who piloted the bill in Parliament.
Grenlec also paid out the sum of $11, 373.60 in profit sharing to Godric Pursoo, $11, 729.03 to George Radix, $9, 833.43 each to Bruce Bain, the late Wilfred Hayes and Kenneth James, as well as $7,582.40 to Lawrence Samuel, $7321.76 to Claudia Alexis and $6, 634.60 to Chester Palmer.
Member of Parliament for St. Andrew’s South East, Emmalin Pierre, noted that the new electricity bill “is necessary for the economic development of the country.”
She pointed out that “it is not a fight against Grenlec, but a fight for the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.”
Minister Pierre’s sentiments were echoed by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who cautiously told Parliament that the fight to change Grenlec’s status “is not over yet.”
“We have taken a step but don’t expect them (WRB) to sit down…They are going to fight us, so stand with us.
“I know it (has) some game players in this country, whenever fight start they running and hide, but those who hope to benefit from this and all of us will (stand up) when the fight starts.
“You have to stand up with the government, don’t let us stay in the fire and take all the boulders by ourselves because it will come. They have a nice deal.
Prime Minister Mitchell sought to assure the nation that the move by his 3-year old government should not be seen as an anti-WRB issue.
He said: “It suited Grenlec to operate as if we have a problem with them. That is not the issue. If it was a Grenadian person or organisation in charge of this Grenlec, operating in the same manner, literally squeezing the taxpayers of the country, I would make the same point … so it has nothing to do with the company (WRB).”
Dr. Mitchell also placed on record his high esteem for the Grenlec workers.
“I have no problem with the management and the workforce at Grenlec, (they are) some of the best workers in this country”, he said.
“I want to make it very clear … we have a problem with what is taking place and what it is doing to our country on a whole.” he added.