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BEC and the Christie legacy


Published: Aug 16, 2013

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For years Bahamians and businesses have complained about the high cost of electricity, but no government would take on the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) behemoth. Drowning in debt and overstaffed, BEC is a tangled web of inefficiency and misconduct. We welcome the prime minister’s remarks on energy reform. His success or failure on this major endeavor will likely define his political career.

This government has struggled against falling support since it was elected to rule without gaining a majority of the vote. The Bahamian people are disgruntled and becoming more so with each failure of the Christie administration. High-profile stumbles on web shop gambling and stem cell research and therapy have gone ahead of much-needed reform of our education, medical and energy sectors.

There is no question that energy reform is urgently needed. Any reduction in electricity costs will provide immediate economic benefit. And while we all want change, the government may want to consider providing more time for candidates to prepare requests for proposal (RFPs) for the proposed sector liberalization. Requesting proposals in by mid-September may not be sufficient time for those interested to put forward their best ideas. The government has said it has 65 energy proposals already, but these groups will now want to rework their offers based on Christie’s communication on Tuesday on energy sector reform.

While it is good that Christie seems serious about comprehensive reform, it is also ambitious for the government to assume it can sign two contracts with two companies by the end of the year unless it has quietly narrowed the playing field to a select few already. We hope it has not. That would make a farce of the process the prime minister has announced.

Christie points to transparency as a key objective in energy reform. We believe it prudent to highlight and emphasize his objective to create “an energy sector that is supported by a modern and dynamic regulatory framework that fosters investment, competition, efficiency, public-private partnerships, a level playing field and transparency”.

Energy surveys of The Bahamas have been conducted by numerous large consulting firms, including Fichtner under the Ingraham government. Two reports by the National Energy Policy Committee are available on the BEST Commission website. It would behoove this government to make public all the findings by its National Energy Task Force, in addition to Genting’s no-cost energy report. Such disclosure would attest to a commitment to transparency.

Transparency, or at least public perception that the process proceeds with some level of transparency, will be a key element of Christie’s success or failure in this initiative. The PLP’s record on government-entity privatizations remains marred by the failed Bluewater deal for the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).

If this energy sector liberalization is achieved without scandal or the appearance of favoritism, and competent companies are selected that are able to provide energy consistently and at lower costs, Christie’s legacy will be enhanced. He would then be remembered as the prime minister who helped remove the BEC parasite from the back of his people.

 

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