Minister: Bpl Financial Past ‘Totally Shameful’

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.


Tribune Business Editor


A Cabinet minister yesterday blasted Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) financial past as “absolutely shameful” amid revelations it received a $15m taxpayer loan to help repay due debt.

Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that “terrible financial planning” at BPL and its Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) predecessor had resulted in the state-owned utility becoming increasingly reliant on taxpayer support ahead of its long-term refinancing.

He spoke to this newspaper after the government’s fiscal “snapshot” for the 2019-2020 first quarter revealed that BPL has received at least two “short-term” loans from the Ministry of Finance to help repay debt liabilities falling due and for other purposes.

“The government made a $15m short-term shareholder loan to BPL in August 2019 to assist the entity in meeting amortisation payments that became due in September 2019,” the “snapshot” said. “Like the terms of the previous facility extended to BPL in June 2019, the loan is to mature no later than December 31, 2019.”

Mr Bannister said the second loan mentioned likely referred to an “advance” on financing for the project to convert all street lighting to more efficient, less costly LED technology, while the former was needed to cover debt repayment obligations that the cash-strapped, loss-making utility could not meet from its own resources.

“We all appreciate the financial planning at BPL over the years was terrible,” he told Tribune Business. “BPL has a number of loans that are coming due. One came due earlier this year and another comes due, I believe, on December 11 - early December.”

Mr Bannister said the Ministry of Finance’s “short-term” loans will be repaid from the Rate Reduction Bond (RRB) issue, the mammoth $450-$550m long-term financial restructuring of BPL that has been planned since the former Christie administration was in office.

With Citibank already selected as the RRB’s financial advisor/placement agent, the minister said the bond issue was still scheduled to be placed before year-end with expectations that the financing will be received in January.

“Once that is placed there will be funding for all this; BPL’s challenges,” Mr Bannister said. “In the interim, as BPL has challenges, the Ministry of Finance stepped in to loan the funds to BPL - not to give the funds to BPL.

“That short-term funding from Finance will be repaid once the bond is placed by the end of this year. January is when we anticipate receiving the funding.”

BPL’s RRB refinancing, while essential to its future financial health, may provoke controversy among some elements of Bahamian society given that it is ultimately the state-owned energy monopoly’s customers that will pay for it via an extra charge that will be added to their monthly bills.

The original plan, developed by the former Christie administration under the Electricity Rate Reduction Bond Act, calls for the sums raised by this additional charge to be used to pay the interest owed to investors who purchase the bonds.

The Bahamas Rate Reduction Bond Ltd, not BPL, is the special purpose vehicle that will be responsible for issuing the bonds and paying investors due interest. This structure will exchange BPL’s legacy BEC debt and other liabilities for new debt, which will be kept off BPL’s balance sheet via the SPV’s role as issuing agent.

The old liabilities include around $350m in bond and bank debt; a $100m employee pension fund deficit; and other assorted liabilities including the cost of environmental clean-ups at various sites around The Bahamas. It is likely that some of the financing may also replace the $100m short-term funding that helped acquire the 132 Mega Watts (MW) of new Wartsila engines.

Explaining the rationale for the RRB issue, Mr Bannister told Tribune Business: “Mr Hartnell, the financial history of BPL is shameful, and that’s one of the things the current Board and management is changing.

“It’s absolutely shameful. It’s gone on for decades, and I’m so grateful it’s going to change under the leadership of this Board which will ensure that BPL is able to take care of itself financially and do what has to be done for the Bahamian people.”

Mr Bannister then revealed that there will be “tremendous opportunities for Bahamian ownership” in the new multi-fuel power plant that Shell North America is due to construct at Clifton Pier by 2021, although the details have yet to be worked out.

Disclosing that potential investors approached to doubt have been almost unanimous in expressing interest, he said: “Shell is looking for Bahamian investment and they are going to provide that opportunity for a number of our big investors to own share of the power plant.

“There’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for Bahamian ownership, and the Bahamian investors we have spoken to so far, most of them are very, very interested.” It is unclear how much of the proposed power plant would be offered to Bahamian ownership, and whether it would be a debt or equity offering that is involved.

Meanwhile, Mr Bannister pledged that “everything is going to be finished” with respect to the Shell power plant’s construction by 2021, and added: “I met with Shell in the last two weeks. They are very excited. They’ve set some timelines with respect to the power plan, and have some applications before the Government.

“Those applications are being reviewed, are coming through the system and will be released so they can move forward.” Mr Bannister said the applications in question were the typical ones foreign investors have to make to the Investments Board and National Economic Council (NEC).

He added that “most of the challenges” faced by BPL will be solved once the 132 MW of new generation capacity provided by Wartsila are installed by the December 2019 target date, and confirmed it was “part of the plan” for the latter to manage the new Shell plant.

“There are still some challenges with these old transmission and distribution (T&D) lines that we have to resolve, but I don’t anticipate having anything like we had this summer. I expect next summer to be very pleasant for all Bahamians,” Mr Bannister told Tribune Business.

Wartsila confirmed yesterday that of the 31-strong workforce it plans to hire to operate the new 132 MW, some 27 - or 87 percent - will be Bahamians. The announcement was not greeted warmly by Paul Maynard, head of the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU), who blasted it as “asinine” and failing “to make sense”.

Suggesting that his line staff members would be giving up their existing benefits by transferring to Wartsila, Mr Maynard said he would “reserve judgment” until he met with the generation provider on November 11.

He added that he and the union were informed of Wartsila’s offer only yesterday by BPL’s executive director, Patrick Rollins, and the utility’s human resources staff.


birdiestrachan 1 year, 2 months ago

Banister knows that his FNM Government has been in power 17 of the last 25 years so much responsibility lies with them.

It is about time Mr: Banister get to work and stop moaning and groining. providing he knows what to do in the first. place.

much like the lie he tells about Ragged Island. excuse after excuse


proudloudandfnm 1 year, 2 months ago

And the PLP was in power 35 of the last 50 years Birdie.....


John 1 year, 2 months ago

So what about the small Bahamians will shares also be available to them.. Maybe a way to get back some of the outrageous monies paid to BPL


Porcupine 1 year, 2 months ago

It is dinosaur thinking to look around this fast changing world, and yet still continue to use archaic thinking in planning for the future. Again, and I hate to say it, our educational system, and society in general, have failed to produce the level of intellectual competence needed to bring individuals, families, workers, not to mention a country into the future. It is rather sad to see. From the actual electrical energy generation, to labor relations, to the financial transactions involved, we are operating as if this is 1919, not 2019.


proudloudandfnm 1 year, 2 months ago

Yep, we need to go back to the British educational system.....


Bahamianbychoice 1 year, 2 months ago

Spoken by the guy who certainly appears to have his hands in the cookie jar along with his friends..and while he has been in the position of MOW the country has experienced the worst power insecurity in its history... while wasting millions of tax payer money...amazing..we have yet to see the real impact to the GDP...


BahamaPundit 1 year, 2 months ago

Time for the Bahamas to give up its independence and return to Britain. It is clear that the native majority were far out of their depth and reach from day one to present day. People with an IQ of a two year old and the discipline of a crack addict simply cannot get the job done period! Time to admit the low intelligence of our government culture simply cannot run a country. When will we finally admit that independence was a complete and utter failure/scam. As with an AA meeting. Admitting you are an alcoholic is the first step to recovery.


Ton_Heijnmans 1 year, 2 months ago

In March 2018, the Finnish International Energy and Shipping Corporation Wärtsilä Oyj Abp, announced that it had delivered the world's largest solar hybrid power plant, situated in Burkina Faso.

Only one of the world's poorest nations.

Yet? Renewable energy?

And despite which Doktor O'Subtraction of the almost mcminus casualty figures (where a massive nuclear-force hurricane actually cures people and makes the dead, walk again, as never-to-be-seen-again (or prayed for) 《missing people》.... missing.... yeah right. As missing as the Lost Tribe of Abraham more like.

And despite all the crap flowing from the oral orifice, Mister Richard-Bow (of Norwegian Parrot crossed with a Cockatoo TV-Screen fame) ... about "Clean BaHamAnnas", and about moving forwards Ba Ham Yoyos :

What do these total and utter ***** do?

Invest in outdated, heavy-feul guzzling monstrosities.... that will be spewing out many thousand of 《Boyds'n Goats Jah Mon》.... for the thirty three years the machines are given a warranty for. ....?🏭🏭🏭 clean?

Well done ****heads!


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