The Keith Mitchell-led government in St. George’s has turned to local constitutional expert, Dr. Francis Alexis, QC to help fight the U.S-based company, WRB Enterprises and its sole electricity provider on the island, GRENLEC on a controversial levy.
Dr. Alexis headed a five-member team of attorneys assembled by the State last week Thursday to defend government’s decision to impose a 5% tax on GRENLEC through an amendment to Section 20 of the Electricity Services (Amendment) Act of 2017, commonly referred to as the ESA.
The other members of the state team are Solicitor General, Dwight Horsford, and attorneys Olabisi Clouden, Sasha Courtney and Linda Dolland.
The first hearing of the case was heard at High Court No. 4 on the Carenage in St. George’s before Montserratian-born Judge, Madam Justice Jean Dyer.
Grenlec is being represented by Attorney-at-Law, Sydney Bennet QC, from the Tortola-based Sabals Law Firm, with assistance from local Attorney-at-Law Dickon Mitchell of Mitchell & Co.
The utility company had filed a Constitutional motion against the Attorney General on February 12, 2018 challenging the legality of the December 2017 amendment to the ESA of 2016, which mandates Grenlec to give 5% of its pre-tax profit to a Government-controlled “Social Fund.”
Grenlec is contending that the amendment is “unconstitutional” and that the “so-called ‘Social Fund’ will effectively eliminate and replace the company’s annual investment in its Grenlec Community Partnership Initiative (GCPI), which has since 1994, invested more than $22 million in education, health, sports culture and social services on the island.
However, the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration of Prime Minister Mitchell maintains that the imposition of the ‘Social Fund’ levy “is an ordinary exercise of the Government’s regulatory powers.”
Speaking with reporters following last Thursday’s proceedings, Solicitor General Horsford reiterated the government’s position, stating that the “5% levy is quite consistent with the Constitution” and that “an affidavit was put in explaining how the levy is to operate similar to the Environmental Levy that is currently existing.
“So, it is nothing new…we are confident about our position and there is nothing unconstitutional about it”, Horsford added.
The attorneys for both sides have until May 18 to file additional affidavits and legal arguments.
The judge also set June 8 as the date for them to provide further disclosure and June 15 for the filing of all evidence in chief.
Madam Justice Dyer, who is currently on a 1-month assignment as a civil judge on island, gave an order for the Court Office to fix a trial date for sometime during the week of July 16.
Grenlec’s General Manager, Collin Cover was present in court and looked very composed as he sat for the entire duration of the proceedings.
The utility company has been on the receiving end of every Mitchell-led government since WRB became the majority shareholder in the once state-owned company in 1994 under the Congress administration of late Prime Minister Sir Nicholas Brathwaite.
Dr. Mitchell has often stated that he intends to buy out the American-controlled company and put it back under state control due to the high cost of electricity under the current Grenlec management.