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Why politicians should not be in the energy business

Published: Sep 13, 2013

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The executive chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), Leslie Miller, yesterday announced that his corporation will suspend residential disconnections for a two-week period.

“What this means is that for the next two weeks, residential customers who are already burdened with high electricity bills will get some reprieve,” Miller said during a press conference at BEC’s main office.

The government is seeking to help thousands of Bahamians who are currently living without electricity.

“There are still approximately 5,000 Bahamian homes without electricity,” Miller said.

“If one considers the fact that the average Bahamian home has an average of three to four persons, there is anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 Bahamians that go without light.”

Governments and politicians don’t do well with this issue.  It is sad that so many people live without electricity.  But the simple fact is they don’t have electricity because they can’t afford it.  Just as some people don’t have cars because they can’t afford it.  These are the realities of life.

We have said before that what the government should do is work to reduce the cost of electricity in The Bahamas.  That move is underway.  The government is seeking private sector energy partners and it is also seeking to break up BEC.  In New Providence, and most of our islands, BEC has a monopoly.  Its high-price, low-quality service is harmful to the Bahamian economy.

While this energy sector reform is underway, the government has again fallen into one of these feel-good gimmicks that claim to help those who simply cannot afford the energy BEC is selling.  What usually happens is the lights of the disconnected are turned on and they make pledges to pay some of the old bills and to keep up with the new.  Then, a month or so later, they cannot pay what they pledged and the lights go off again.

Politicians pander on this issue too much and it demonstrates why BEC is in the dismal financial position it is in today.  Rather than making decisions to ensure the financial soundness of the state corporation, our leaders choose ruinous gimmicks that do not work.

When the new energy sector model is chosen, it would be wise if politicians legislatively write themselves out of decision making over such things as whose lights will be cut on or off.  These decisions should be made based on logic and the financial well-being of the companies who produce and sell power.  If our elected officials keep these powers the new sector will end up in as poor a state as BEC is in now.


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