By MALCOLM STRACHAN
There has to be somebody else in the country pinching themselves to see if they’re living in the real world after BPL announced its plans to introduce a rate reduction bond and deemed the Bahamian people as its financiers. Yes, you heard it correctly. The same BPL that pulled the plug on the entire country for the better part of this year’s scorching hot summer is slapping its whopping $300 million-plus debt burden on the Bahamian people. And those of us that pay our bills on time can expect to carry the brunt of the load. With the private sector currently owing $125 million in unpaid electricity bills, there should be little assurance that BPL will somehow magically do a complete turnaround on its debt collection, as on far too many occasions the embattled utility provider has shown itself less than capable of doing so.
Outlining BPL’s debt collection woes this week, chairman Dr Donovan Moxey revealed that $66 million of the monies owed to BPL is more than 90 days past due, along with $7 million being more than 60 days overdue. Making matters worse, most of these companies employ Bahamians and would likely opt to lay off workers if their power costs were to rise any further.
Forever the optimist, Dr Moxey predicts costs will be significantly lower once BPL fully transitions out of the power generation business and its gas to power facilities are fully on stream. With that not taking place until sometime next year, the Bahamian people find little comfort in Moxey’s predictions.
Again, bless his heart, he also previously predicted we would have a blackout-free summer, and we all know how that panned out. It turned out to be a disaster of epic proportions with New Providence left in darkness for the majority of the summer and heading into the fall. It has been an absolute nightmare.
Now, with the Bahamian people forced to accept an additional charge on their BPL bill – one can only imagine the collective rage felt by the general public.
Speaking to the general frustration last week, Opposition deputy leader Chester Cooper sounded off on the additional BPL charge at a PLP branch meeting.
“Guess how they want to pay for that? With a new fee on your bill. With a new BPL tax. Guess who will pay that? You. You, and your wife, and your children and the poor and the struggling business owner and the big business owner who will start to lay off and pass on the new BPL tax to the consumer.
“So, your light bill at home will be higher thanks to the new BPL tax. So, your light bill at work, and at your business will be higher thanks to the new BPL tax and the FNM (Free National Movement). And the cost of goods and services will be higher, thanks to the new BPL tax.”
While Cooper’s rant was most likely designed to rile his party’s base, there is without a doubt a national disdain for BPL that allows his message to resonate with the wider population.
Also addressing the matter, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, did little to quell the frustrations of the Bahamian people, only offering an ultimatum – either be taxed by the government or pay higher BPL bills. Surely the Bahamian people found little comfort in the acting prime minister’s words.
While the nation’s chief was away opening an embassy as this bombshell dropped, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, in August, after referring to BPL’s failures and the aggravation being experienced by the citizenry as a state of crisis, committed the government to resolving BPL’s issues. What followed was rental generation in the short-term, but the Bahamian people expected something else – not to pay more funds for a defective service.
Nonetheless, as we set emotions aside, BPL’s legacy issues under successive administrations have unfortunately brought us to this crossroads. And worse, there’s no scenario being presented that doesn’t hit taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
Still, however, Prime Minister Minnis must be very cognizant of the road he and his colleagues are about to embark upon.
Must we remind everyone that apart from crime and corruption, BPL and its towering effect on the cost of living and doing business has historically been a pain for citizens and businesspeople – largely leading to the former administration falling out of favour with the Bahamian people.
Two and a half years into this term, and two deals with Shell and Wartsila later, further removing us from a path towards renewable energy, the government’s proposed national energy policy leading up to the 2017 election seems like a farce.
Even considering the launch of a solar car park and Grand Bahama Power’s implementation of a solar grid this past year, we’re still taking two steps forward and 20 steps back with electricity largely being generated from oil and gas. The government is not fully invested in a shift towards renewable energy and public relations stunts on the periphery aren’t going to move the needle.
That said, what’s needed is that the Bahamian people must learn from the government what additional steps are going to be taken to ramp up efforts toward the goal of 30 percent solarisation by 2030 – a step-by-step process indicating what checks and balances are going to be put in place to ensure the goal posts aren’t shifted. Because as we see it, BPL is continuing to be shoved down the throats of its consumers. Moreover, New Providence, the most populous island needs a solution that, up until this point, BPL has fallen short of too many times to secure the faith of its customers.
The Minnis administration must be very careful with regards to BPL and the promises they are betting on. Because rest assured, if the goal posts continue to move on when some relief is going to come, the voting public’s minds will be firmly made up.