Apr 14, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – It is unlikely that the slogan for Guyana Power and Light (GPL) website, “Empowering you”, would not have been selected and settled upon with as much a sense of painful irony as positive idealism. From the original ventures in England by pioneers Roger Hammond and Thomas Edison in the 1880s, almost a century and a half ago, the public provision of electricity has been indispensable to the development of nations and the empowerment of their people. Not so in Guyana where since independence the constantly unreliable and expensive public provision of electricity has certainly not been empowering to our people, even as subsequent political administrations have both used the poor provision of power to get into power and then sought to excuse their abject failure to fix the power situation while in power.
For example, when the David Granger administration was elected into government in 2015, it was in large part due to a campaign that promised “It is time to end blackouts”. By that time, 15 years into the new millennium, GPL’s increasingly ludicrous excuses for power outages had become so widely panned that they had spawned dozens of internet memes, and one entire Facebook page, the GPL Rat, after the excuse given at one time that massive blackouts in the capital city were supposedly caused by a rat gnawing through some wire at the Kingston generation plant.
In August of 2016, over a year into the administration that promised an end to blackouts, there was no end, with the Department of Public Information (DPI) reporting that: “The [David Patterson, Public Infrastructure] Minister explained that he recently met with the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Board to improve response time to at least 15 minutes. However, efforts are underway to repair the cable, but the operation is specialised so quotations are out and work would commence shortly, Minister Patterson explained. In Demerara, it’s not a question of generators, since all the generators are working, but it is a question of the distribution system, Minister Patterson reiterated. The aged system is ineffective and results in frequent blackouts in the East Bank, West Bank and East Coast Demerara areas.”
Two years later, and three into the Coalition government, in May of 2018, Patterson was still promising earnestly that “reliable and stable electricity will be delivered”, a month after then Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, had given similar assurances. The Granger administration is of course now history and with a new PPP administration in place, the refrain is eerily familiar. In October of last year, we had the new Prime Minister, Mark Phillips making promises that were heard ad nauseam for the previous five years. According to one DPI report: “Prime Minister Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips has outlined some of the Government’s plans to diversify the energy sector to end the scourge of blackouts that have for years plagued the nation. In a recent interview, the Prime Minister said the Government has sought to address the challenges facing the Guyana Power and Light Incorporated (GPL) from its first days in office, in a quest to end blackouts.”
People in power have to get serious about the delivery of power to the Guyanese people, and to start by acknowledging the devastating effects of power outages on the local economy at every conceivable level. Not only is money/value lost from constant blackouts but money/value is prevented from being earned. Think of a pastry maker with a piece of cheese in her fridge. She has invested in that cheese in order to add value to that cheese for her to make a profit. If there is blackout, that cheese goes bad and not only does she lose the money she has invested in the cheese, she also loses any potential profit she can make from putting the cheese in a cheese roll and selling it. And at the end of the day, GPL doesn’t give her a blackout rebate on its bill – she still has to pay full price for the disrupted electricity supply that has completely destroyed her bottom line. Now scale that up to industrial levels and you get the sense of the massive disruptions that an unstable power supply has caused in this country’s development and growth, from the small producer to the medium scale enterprise to the large (for Guyana at least) manufacturer who is required to compete in a global economy.
Politicians from both sides of our great political divide continue to fail us when it comes to the provision of a reliable power supply, even as they continue to thrive via power from the people, both figuratively and literally since the majority of those in executive office not only have their electricity bills paid by taxpayers but also enjoy alternate sources of electricity, from solar to gas generators, when most of the country has to endure blackouts. It is time that the people are truly empowered by, well, more power to the people.
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