A WEEK ago as massive Hurricane Irma was barreling toward The Bahamas threatening life and limb, this newspaper, other media houses and the general public tore into Bahamas Power and Light for its lack of preparation. Where were the trucks that were supposed to be trimming trees ahead of the storm? Where had they been since the start of the hurricane season? With winds predicted at more than 150mph, fear of a strong storm surge and trees overhanging power lines from one end of the island to the next, we could be facing days, weeks, even months without power if heavy branches snapped and crushed supply lines.
We were lucky. Most of The Bahamas dodged another bullet with Irma taking a turn for the west, heading to the Florida Keys and up the southwestern coast of Florida. Many Bahamians with family and friends in Florida will help in rescue efforts and well we should. Floridians have always been there for The Bahamas. And, of course we must be prepared to assist those in the southern Bahamas who suffered damage and those in Grand Bahama who endured tornadoes in the midst of the storm.
But as Hurricane Irma moved out, BPL trucks, at last, moved into action in New Providence. They were out in force on Sunday, making up for lost time and The Tribune wants to take this opportunity to acknowledge the company for finally, finally, beginning to act like a responsible power company. Bahamians have been through enough and The Tribune has taken BPL to task time and again in editorials and in news coverage for its apparent lack of respect for the consumer, dishing out inconsistent and unreliable service at high cost, an untenable situation that no amount of apologies could make acceptable.
We like what we see of the new interim CEO, Mike Herreld, who actually has a background in electrical power operations unlike his predecessor, Pamela Hill, whose background was finance. Mrs Hill was named CEO April 29, 2016 by PowerSecure, the company contracted by the Bahamian government to manage BPL, though the public has never seen the contents of the contract. One year and four months after her appointment and just weeks after BPL executives awarded themselves a reported $1.1m in bonuses, Mrs Hill was shown the door, ousted without a word of explanation. What we do know is her ouster came less than two weeks after three junior employees were fired for alleged involvement in a $2m fraud scheme that included issuance of 44 cheques to 16 vendors over a five-month period beginning in December 2016. The alleged scheme was uncovered during a forensic audit conducted by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.
The Tribune, we are sure, is not alone in asking for the entire truth to be laid bare in the management and operations of BPL. This requires cooperation of all units, particularly the determination of the Minister of Works the Hon Desmond Bannister. His desire to open the management contract and the so-called business plan for which the Bahamian public paid, a fact we still cannot fathom, must not be impeded in any way and should be encouraged. We fully believe Mr Bannister to have the best of intentions and we encourage him to present the contract and the business plan without political comment, letting the facts speak for themselves. The political commentary may come later. We also encourage the anti-corruption unit and the Royal Bahamas Police Force to do their jobs without political interference. The investigation must be independent and thorough and the consequences for those convicted of participating must be grave, matching the severity of the deeds that deprived the public of its rights for the personal gain of a handful of people.
This is a time for everyone with even the slightest temptation to commit fraud to recognise that it will no longer be tolerated. We are turning a page and while you do not wipe out a culture of corruption just by wishing it away, you can demonstrate that the price for getting caught is not worth the risk of getting involved.
At the same time the dirty laundry is aired and hung out to dry, we wish Mr Herreld good fortune. If he lives up to his stated and ambitious goals – robust growth, innovation and a return to financial strength – he will deserve to remain and should earn the respect of the men and women who work at BPL. We do not think that the former head of BEC, Kevin Basden, ever got the reward he deserved for decades of dedication and we hope he will be duly recognized. In the end, the only solution for BPL is renewable energy. It is the wave of the future and the way that The Bahamas, blessed with year-round sun, can show leadership and innovation. That is the only route to a financially robust BPL and a steady supply of power.
Once the house is fully cleaned, it will be time to let the sun shine in.