Sep 24, 2017 News
By Leonard Gildarie
I woke up yesterday and saw a number of texts from an angry West Bank Demerara resident. She is living in La Parfaite Harmonie, one of the largest housing schemes in the country after Diamond. Her water supply was out for a week now. There is no official word from the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI).
I could be wrong, but I too can’t recall seeing a statement or one of those phone texts that seems to be popping up more and more every day.
The biggest grouse for Guyanese, it seems, remains the state of the electricity sector, and of water and telephone.
There seems to be few excuses or explanations. Consumers are left resigned to accepting the poor service as par for the course. Billions of dollars are being spent and collected on these utilities by the owners.
In Guyana, the water company, the Guyana Water Inc., and the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) have remained in the hands of the state.
Fortunately, depending on which side of the fence you are sitting, the two telephone companies, one a US-owned and the other Irish, are private.
In Guyana, our utilities are governed by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
From time to time, there are public hearings where the companies have to report on their performance, based on a number of targets which have been set.
For GPL, the number of outages and the strides in reducing technical and commercial losses which impact what we pay on our electricity bill, are two of the most burning questions. I sat at a number of public hearings and saw officials squirm, in giving out those figures.
I believe, in my little heart, that the figures are worse than what are being presented.
The performance of the utility companies and the seeming lack of accountability to the Guyanese people are simply unbelievable.
The woes of the electricity sector manifested itself in a big way in the late 80s where Guyana was saddled with a daily dosage of forced blackouts because there was not enough power being generated. To ease the burden on the weary Guyanese, the power company back in those days was brave enough to give fancy names like ‘Scheduled Outages’, ‘Load Shedding’ and ‘Line Maintenance’.
More than 30 years later, we are facing almost the same problems. Daily, people call and complain of a power failure.
Freddie Kissoon would ask me if I had outages. He lives in the Turkeyen area and that area is suffering.
I can recall a few years ago, when commissioning the 26 megawatt new power station in Kingston, the previous administration declared we won’t be needing another one until the Amaila Falls hydro comes.
From what GPL is claiming, the issue is more of one relating to the transmission and distribution network. However, recently the company admitted that it is barely producing enough to cover the peak periods.
There are conclusions to be made here. It is either our engines are failing or the demand for power has been climbing at an alarming rate.
We are exploring a mega power plant to be fueled by a natural gas pipeline from Exxon’s Liza1 operations.
As a country, we are spending billions of dollars annually to upkeep our power plants. In fact, almost US$100M annually is spent by GPL to import fuel to run the plants.
Over the years, a number of large companies, including Banks DIH, facing an unreliable supply, invested heavily in its own power. Are they coming back to the grid?
I have many friends in GPL. They are good people, but that means nothing when we have a service to deliver to Guyanese.
We heard stories of the rackets at GPL. For example, there were rackets ran in the prepaid and post-paid meters purchases. We do know that some of the meters were of downright poor quality and others simply not suited to the Guyana situation.
In many cases, GPL reportedly bypassed established procurement procedures in its purchases.
A number of meters were dumped, quietly. There are other cases of spares, poor quality ones, being purchased, in a multi-million dollar racket.
PUC does not see these things. It all adds up to GPL costs and at the end of the day, we as the consumers are saddled with the electricity bills in which these costs are built in.
We have embarked on a number of major projects to change old transformers, replace transmission lines and introduce smart meters.
It is GPL’s responsibility to ensure that the contractors deliver quality work, unlike what we received from the sub-stations.
There is so much more that we can say on GPL’s performance but we will leave this here for the time.
Is the PUC toothless?
I am thankful every day for getting water to my home. There are thousands of Guyanese who still do not have piped water.
However, the water to the main leaves a lot to be desired – it comes red, straight from the ground and not treated.
Like GPL, it appeared that before time, GWI was mired deep in corruption over its procurement. It now has a new board and management and I am waiting to see how they operate.
Like GPL, GWI is slow to start keeping persons abreast with its major programmes…like bringing water to new housing schemes and reducing its unmetered service.
Mirroring the complaints of GPL is the service of the two telephone companies. I have dear friends in both of them also. I quarrel with them often.
While Digicel is not in the landline business, it is moving in that direction with liberalisation looming.
Too often, we hear persons complaining of the level of internet services on the mobile devices. GTT is the holder of licences which gives it on paper, control of landlines and overseas calls.
Both companies have been battling it out, accusing each other of sabotage.
The fact is at the end of the day, the normal consumer does not care about the problems facing GTT or Digicel. We are paying and we want the service.
We have many new housing schemes, including La Parfaite Harmonie, which are without landlines, years after they were opened. There is very little word from GTT.
Yet we hear of the millions of dollars in profits that are leaving the country monthly. You cannot argue that there are no monies for capital investments. We have dallied too long.
I pay almost $10,000 monthly on my DSL and was told it was super-fast. Today, I am hearing of another product coming soon to Diamond. Guess what? The current service sucks.
I wonder who monitors Digicel and GTT to determine whether the internet service that they are providing is according to what was committed to when they collected the monies from the consumers! Millions of dollars is being collected monthly.
Other than the companies being made to submit a periodical report, are there checks by PUC to determine the quality of service? More importantly, does PUC have the powers and capacity to deal with this?
How many times have we heard consumers, complaining of poor service and on engaging a service representative are being told to buy a new modem, only to be back at square one?
I believe that mechanisms have to be found and new legislations even introduced to widen the powers of PUC.
We are a growing country. Our level of service will have to improve in leaps and bounds. Our regulators therefore have to be technically and otherwise equipped and ready to deal with issues.
Recently, a new Chairperson, Dela Britton, was sworn in. Her task is an unenviable one, in a rapidly changing world.
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