By MALCOLM STRACHAN
AMID what has been deemed an energy crisis by some, public outcry over the increasing electricity costs has become commonplace in our society. Similarly, the lackadaisical response from our elected leaders has been disheartening. Indubitably, Bahamas Power and Light has become our nation’s greatest failure.
Administration after administration has promised to decrease electricity costs and fix the issues plaguing the faltering power company.
The Bahamian people had figured that, with the disengagement of Power Secure and the hiring of an all-Bahamian board, things would finally begin to get better. Unfortunately, this has been far from the case, with internal drama resulting in the board getting the axe, multiple fires at the Clifton Pier Power Plant compromising infrastructure and unreleased findings of a BPL audit where corruption may have been at play.
Evidently, BPL has not been the poster company for how an effective and efficient organisation should operate. Worse, the beleaguered power company may be as inefficient as it’s ever been.
Notwithstanding the effect increased fuel costs worldwide will have on our monthly bills, it is the poor service that adds insult to injury. We are clobbered over the head each month paying exorbitant rates for a service that doesn’t work.
To that end, one cannot be surprised when there is public uproar.
BPL CEO Whitney Heastie and chairman Dr Donovan Moxey have been making the public relations rounds attempting to soften the blow to the Bahamian people, but to no avail. There is nothing to be said to a family already struggling to survive in this economy when electrical cost and service have such an inverse relationship.
The Bahamian people are rightfully fearful of what the next six months will be like when already this year there has been a huge increase in electricity cost.
What has been even more unfortunate is the prime minister’s response. Rather than presenting a viable short-term solution that would benefit all Bahamians, he announced an increase of the VAT exemption ceiling on power bills from $200 to $300. Well, Amen to that!
While the prime minister may possibly be thinking that he is doing the Bahamian people a huge favour, perhaps it would be helpful for him to take a look at what the Bahamian people have been paying for electricity and see a forecast of what is to be expected if the trend continues.
Realistically, the increase on the VAT exemption ceiling will only, at best, benefit the populace already scraping to get by – something we are sure the prime minister knew before making his announcement.
Again, we see the prime minister manoeuvring in a politically expedient manner, rather than one in the best interest of all Bahamians. It is unfortunate, particularly when the issues at BPL are a result of age-old infrastructural and management problems. Surely, these problems have been in place prior to the current government assuming office, but nonetheless are their problems to arrest and provide permanent solutions.
During the prime minister’s national address while still in opposition, he said the following: “If our Bahamas is to grow technologically, and if we are to remain competitive in the global society, we must provide a reliable source of energy at reduced cost. The performance of Bahamas Power and Light has been unacceptable.
“Too many citizens must decide whether to pay the high electricity bill, or go without food, and too many businesses are opting not to invest in the Bahamas, because energy costs are too high compared to other jurisdictions.
“We will change this. Our comprehensive energy revolution will be undergirded by our national solarisation programme. This programme will allow ordinary home owners and small businesses to produce their own energy, by utilising government-subsidised solar panels. In this way, they will not only reduce their own energy cost, but they will be able to sell their excess production to the national grid.”
Although there has been zero indication of any movement on a national solarisation programme, this past week was at least a step in the direction of lowering energy costs as the signing of a MOU between BPL and Shell North America to build an LNG plant by the year 2022 took place. However, with that being a painstaking three to four years in the future, the government must evaluate options and work with our new partners to remedy our current issues in a much shorter window.
Whether this is done through borrowing or a redirection of tax revenue, the Cabinet of the Bahamas must know that a hundred-dollar increase on a VAT exemption ceiling simply won’t cut it.
By now, the Bahamian people know they were bamboozled on the campaign trail by Dr Minnis. However, we are desperately in need of a solution that he has the power to effect.
To that end, every Bahamian must agitate their MPs to ensure that when Parliament gathers, this remains a hot button issue. We cannot become fatigued and complacent as we have become prone to. Else, it is feared that the next six months will be some of our hardest yet.
We can be reasonable and understand that any solution will take some time, but we would prefer to see the prime minister actively working on a viable fix instead of pandering to the populace.