By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE closure of at least one of the seven fast-food restaurants owned by the Cooper family could happen as early as today due to the disconnection of power supply at those businesses by the Grand Bahama Power Company, The Tribune has learned.
According to a reliable source, the closure may come at one of the Burger King restaurants in Freeport, resulting in the unemployment of possibly dozens of Bahamians.
The Tribune understands that power supply at another business entity in Freeport has also been disconnected and the owner was subsequently detained yesterday for questioning by police in connection with suspected electricity theft.
When contacted yesterday about the arrest of another business owner in reference to a complaint filed by GBPC, ASP Terecita Pinder would only say that police are questioning a number of people in reference to the matter.
Meanwhile, a religious and civic leader believes the ordeal could result in a major economic blow to Grand Bahama if those businesses close their doors and hundreds are left jobless.
“It would be a tragedy if that happened,” said Pastor Eddie Victor, president of the Coalition of the Concerned Citizens (CCC) - a civic group which has been very vocal about the high cost of electricity on Grand Bahama.
Power supply was turned off at seven fast food restaurants in Freeport owned and operated by the Cooper family after a complaint of suspected electricity theft was filed with police by GBPC last Wednesday. The owners were arrested and questioned by police, and released pending the outcome of the investigation. On Tuesday, power was still not restored at the three Burger Kings, three KFCs, and Pollo Tropical location, which were on emergency generators since last Wednesday.
Last week, after recent metre audits the Grand Bahama Power Company said it uncovered a series of suspected electricity diversion instances at a number of businesses in the Freeport area.
“As per our established protocols, we have taken immediate steps to isolate those customers from our electrical grid and formally lodged a complaint of suspected theft to the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The RBPF has officially launched an investigation and to our knowledge persons are assisting the police in this matter,” a GBPC statement said last Friday.
The Cooper family has denied any wrongdoing and said the controversy is the result of widely-used energy saving devices that were installed at their businesses, not electricity theft.
They indicated that other businesses and residents on the island are also using the same device which they had installed several years ago by a legitimate licencee of the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
Pastor Victor believes the action taken by the foreign-owned power provider was wrong and could negatively impact the businesses, their employees and the economy of Grand Bahama.
On Sunday, the Cooper family said that if power is not restored at their businesses they may be forced shut the restaurants down—which employ close to 500 Bahamians.
Pastor Victor said: “It would be another economic blow to GB - a blow not because of the economy, but because of a corporate entity on the island that is allowed to act like that - that is the tragedy of this.”
He believes the situation should have been handled in a better way.
“I believe when you look at the whole scenario, they deliberately targeted the Coopers’ businesses to make them an example to other customers. And to me, that is corporate bullying - they are bullying their customers.
“They are a Canadian company and they have a complete disconnect with the community of GB and with Bahamians. I can’t see any Bahamian entity treating Bahamian customers in that fashion. There should have been an initial communication to resolve the problem in an amicably way, and that did not happen,” he said.
Pastor Victor, who heads the CCC, said that the police investigation is not complete and it has not been determined whether the devices are illegal and questioned why are persons being arrested.
“The police department does not have an electrical engineering unit. They have a cyber-crime unit, so how do they know if the devices are illegal?” he said.
Pastor Victor is encouraging the power company to sit down with the businesses and resolve the situation to avoid any further hardship to the island’s economy.