Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis toured the Clifton Pier and Baillou Hills power stations on Sunday. (BIS Photos/Yontalay Bowe)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said Bahamas Power and Light’s woes constitute an “emergency situation” and blamed this on “more than 20 years of neglect”.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson, who had responsibility for the Bahamas Electricity Corporation during the second Ingraham administration, challenged that characterisation yesterday, insisting the problem has never been nearly as bad as it is now.
Dr Minnis toured BPL’s Baillou and Clifton Pier plants on Sunday and expressed surprise yesterday at the dated, decaying equipment he observed. He also pledged the government will use all of its resources to fix the power generation problems.
“I was not cognizant of the challenges,” Dr Minnis told reporters while touring the University of The Bahamas.
“We would read quite a bit about ‘oh the technology being archaic’ but when you see it for yourself then you have a better understanding. Can you imagine in the nerve centre, or the operational centre, they’re still using floppy disk? We are now in the technological era, those are things that needs to be corrected and those are things that they are correcting.
“So we’re looking at more than 20 years of neglect and now we’re correcting those problems and we’re going to correct those once and for all. We’ve had similar problems with the dump and now we’re correcting that. Energy must be corrected and we will place all our energy, all our resources to ensure that we have not only short-term solutions, but that we have permanent solutions so you won’t experience this problem and your generation moving forward (won’t experience it either),” Dr Minnis said.
Mr Watson, nonetheless, said BEC made profits up to when the second Ingraham administration left office in 2002. BPL is a subsidiary of BEC.
He said the company has done a poor job maintaining its equipment and cited the 2003 decision of the first Christie administration to lower electricity rates as the genesis of BPL’s current problems. Michael Moss, executive chairman of BEC during the last Ingraham administration, has argued similarly. Although electricity rates were restored under his watch, he has said the damage was already done by then. The company’s legacy debt issue has prevented it from funding necessary upgrades.
Although power cuts have angered customers for decades, Mr Watson said: “I can’t think of anything during my period that was nearly as bad as today, nothing.”
The Nassau Guardian reported yesterday that BPL Chairman Dr Donovan Moxey has said the company could not afford to buy more rental generators to meet this summer’s demand.
Asked if BPL requested additional funds from Cabinet earlier this year to buy more generators, Dr Minnis did not answer directly.
“Whatever BPL needs, BPL will get,” he said. “What we’re experiencing today is an emergency situation as far as I’m concerned and yes the government has a budget but this is an emergency and the government will have to use all its resources and talent and move resources around but this must be fixed and this will be fixed.”
Some have criticised Dr Minnis for not commenting on the generation woes earlier than he did. His first public comment came last week in a press statement.
BPL has been carrying out daily load shedding since June 19. Dr Minnis defended his silence yesterday, saying: “You and I know you speak when you get the facts. You analyse, you accumulate, you get all the necessary data, and when you get all those facts and are comfortable with the facts, then you speak out. You do not speak prematurely because when you do that, you have to retract.”
Some officials have shied away from using the word “crisis” to describe BPL’s predicament. For his part, the prime minister yesterday sought to distinguish between a genuine energy crisis on the island and crisis as felt by residents and businesses.