By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE Coalition of Concerned Citizens is accusing the Bahamian government of taking Bahamian ownership in Grand Bahama backward with its approval of a Canadian foreign company to own 100 per cent interest in a vital utility company on the island.
Pastor Eddie Victor, the leader of the CCC, expressed strong disappointment over government’s decision agreeing to Emera’s $35 million buy-out of the Grand Bahama Power Company’s (GBPC) Bahamian minority shareholders.
He stressed that Bahamian ownership in the company has been “stripped away,” allowing Emera to become the sole 100 per cent owner of the GBPC.
“We are very disappointed and saddened by the decision of the government,” Pastor Victor told The Tribune on Wednesday. “Any utility company, any infrastructure should have Bahamian ownership in it, and should never be 100 per cent owned by a foreign company.
“There should have been an expansion of Bahamian ownership in GB Power, but this decision eliminates Bahamian ownership.
“They have taken Bahamian ownership backward in Grand Bahama. You would think that all that has been said and heralded by our leaders in our country, that Bahamian ownership is a priority and more economic opportunities for Bahamians, and now what we see is the wholesale approval for Bahamian ownership to go backward, and so we are very saddened by it.”
Early this week, Emera issued a statement announcing it would be closing the transaction to acquire all remaining outstanding common shares of ICD Utilities Limited and that the Bahamas Central Securities Depository Limited (BCSD) would complete the payment of electronic transfers of the cash consideration. Cheque payments were made available to all shareholders on Wednesday.
Pastor Victor has vowed that the CCC will intensify its position in opposition to the power company and drive down the cost of electricity on the island.
He claims that Grand Bahamians pay the highest base rate for electricity in The Bahamas.
Pastor Victor also pointed out that Grand Bahama has the highest unemployment in the country.
He said that the cost of electricity is one of the determining factors that affect the cost of living here on the island.
“We must put an end to the economic injustices in Grand Bahama, especially from high electricity rates,” he said.
According to Pastor Victor, in May 2017, the CCC wrote to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis calling on the government to intervene and address the concerns in the energy sector.
Pastor Victor believes that the present regulatory committee under the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) is not protecting the customers, and thinks that there should be an independent regulatory committee under the oversight of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).
The civic leader is also calling on the government not to renew the East End and West End agreements that exist between the power company and the government, and which are expected to expire this year.
“We think this would be a crucial opportunity to get a new power company on the island which would create competition and more efficiency with electricity service as there is going to be a lot of things happening in the West and East,” Pastor Victor said.
The Tribune contacted a GBPC representative who declined to respond to comments made by the CCC leader.
In the meantime, Pastor Victor stressed that the CCC is moving to intensify its efforts to put an end to high electricity rates by aggressively opposing all rate applications from GBPC, one of which is scheduled for 2018.
He believes that the cost of electricity can be decreased by 35 per cent to 40 per cent.
The CCC will also hold a series of town meetings on Grand Bahama, the first of which will take place in West End on Monday, January 22, at St Mary Magdalene Auditorium at 7pm.
Pastor Victor is inviting all residents and business owners in West End to attend the meeting in an effort “to bring down the cost of energy and transform the economy of Grand Bahama”.