Our nation’s electricity supply greatly improved under Jagan, PPP/C (Pt 1)

first_imgDear Editor,I write this letter responding to the editorial entitled “GPL” in the Sunday Stabroek of November 12th. It seems to me that the Editor set out not wanting to appear to be on either side, neither the PPP/C nor the PNC/APNU&AFC Coalition, thus he used a broad brush which obscured significant details with the risk that we would miss some important lessons, much of which we have paid for and continue to pay for in adverse experiences and in much frustrations.In the SN editorial, there is a reference to 1978, no doubt recalling that nearly three-day period when Georgetown and its environs were without electricity and water – perhaps the lowest point in our supply of electricity. There was not much recovery fourteen years later when Dr. Cheddi Jagan and the PPP/C entered Office in October 1992. I could not concur more with the Editor when he says, “Then came President Cheddi Jagan who in the early days of his period of office which happened to coincide with a particularly bleak period of electricity crisis”, accurate to this point but demonstrably inaccurate in the latter part of this sentence, “seemed to be absorbing himself with promulgating the New Global Human Order, rather than fixing GEC (Guyana Electricity Corporation), as it then was.”.The last part of that sentence could not be more wrong: our electricity utility was extremely close to Cheddi’s heart and he spoke many times of how during his 1957 to 1964 period as Chief Minister/Premier his Government accepted the offer to purchase the then Demerara Electricity Company as the shareholders decided to get out of that business. Cheddi couldn’t help repeating time and again how well the utility was run then with the person he selected, a tailor, as Chairman. By all accounts the electricity supply was satisfying unto our days of strife and strikes and turmoil (1962 to 64) which eventually pushed Cheddi from Office.Cheddi returned to Office (in 1992) with tremendous zeal to return GEC to creditable performance. As would have been known at the time, Cheddi and our new PPP/C Government were under great pressure from the MFIs (Multilateral Financial Institutions) and Bilateral Relationships to immediately and totally privatize the provision of electricity in Guyana. Cheddi led the arguments that immediate privatisation to foreign buyer(s) would be precipitate and premature – there was much for us, the populace, to learn and much for us to correct and change before seeking a privatisation that would not be a give-away but a reasonable business transaction. Cheddi called for a degree of initial improvements by our own means before going to privatization. Guyana was not agreeing to the privatization of our electricity utility as a total basket case.Cheddi was continually involved, unlike the Editor – some may say too much, as it took Cheddi’s understanding and personal standing to lead our country in many new directions including restoring our electricity utility. It required significant reordering of our nation’s priorities, an even-handed frugality with a tight rein on spending for Cheddi and the PPP/C to turn things around in our country. By squeezing all around, enough money was mustered to fund our first expansion in generation of 11 MW when GEC at the time had a notional supply of 30 MW. We advertised publicly for proposals. More than a dozen offered reconditioned gensets but we thought that since reliability was most critical we would prefer brand-new units. The Wartsila offer was the lowest of brand-new units (quite possibly Wartsila had foregone any profits in that offer, as an investment to get their foot into Guyana) but the Wartsila brand and performance were then unknown in Guyana. As it happened, Dr. Jagan at Omai for its opening, when touring their Wartsila power plant, received such complimentary remarks about Wartsila, he recommended that we consider Wartsila’s price and performance guarantee as credible. To pre-empt any compromise of Wartsila’s guarantees and its performance, I advocated and sought approvals (on both sides) for an operations and maintenance contract between GEC and Wartsila. I admit it was my “cya” strategy.The two units brought tremendous improvement but we knew that many more were needed, and quickly so. With this example establishing costs and benefits we, Cheddi with the PPP/C, spent some months trying to promote local funding of the next tranches of gensets. Not enough of us Guyanese seemed ready to believe that we Guyanese were ready to do what was required to develop an efficient, respectable, profitable utility on our own. As I recall, it was only a few days after our Government eventually ordered a second tranche of two Wartsila units that a large failure at the steam plant at Kingstion prompted the immediate ordering of an additional four units to follow on. Unfortunately, Cheddi passed away before the last four were brought into service.Cheddi had also been receiving representations to replace the almost totally dead plant at Anna Regina on the Essequibo coast. He had the pleasure of commissioning a brand new 4 MW (2 x 2MW) plant in May 1995.Mr. Editor it was Cheddi who after many long meetings, the experiences referred to above, and the obvious needs for inputs of capital, new, additional and different experiences and expertise, eventually acceded to starting on the road to privatizing the GEC for the development of Guyana and its people. Notwithstanding our reluctance to consider recovering our GEC ourselves, the overwhelming number of us Guyanese seemed concerned about our GEC (now GPL) in foreign hands. I recall a few days before he took ill a number of Guyanese persons were trying to persuade Cheddi not to privatise. His answer essentially was, bring me and bring me quickly a credible alternative to privatisation. It would take about two years after Cheddi’s passing for the GPL privatisation to be completed but the agreements bore his imprint – a 50:50 partnership and both the Government and Core-Partner selling down their shareholding over years ten to twenty. Cheddi’s dream was for every Guyanese customer family to acquire about the same number of shares, and thus being at the same time both owner as well as customer, sensing, resolving and reconciling the contradictions of the two roles.Samuel AA HindsFormer Prime Minister,Former President andFormer MinisterResponsible for Energyand Electricitylast_img

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