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BEC pulls plug on Inagua

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: Oct 25, 2013

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Nearly half the residents of Inagua were plunged into darkness this week when the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) carried out a mass disconnection exercise.

Around 200 residential customers and several commercial customers were impacted, The Nassau Guardian understands.

There are approximately 450 households on the island, MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray estimated.

BEC Executive Chairman Leslie Miller said yesterday delinquent consumers on Inagua owe more than $500,000, and have not paid their bills in at least four years.

Miller said those residents have been fortunate, benefitting from bill reductions, numerous payment plans and other incentives such as a two-week amnesty period.

“The amnesty is now up,” he said. “They now need to pay their bills.

“Some people are complaining that they did not get their bills, but I’m sure the bills would have been issued.

“And I know they know where to pick up their bills... so they need to stop playing these little silly games.”

However, some residents said they simply cannot afford to pay 30 percent of their bills to have their lights turned on.

Some residents admitted they owe thousands of dollars.

Prudence Palapious, 62, a retired mother of two, said she owes more than $3,000.

But she said she can barely afford basic essentials.

“It is something that you can only sit down and cry about,” she said.

“I mean to demand so much money from people and then come down, and just turn people off, it’s just terrible.”

Miller said despite BEC giving residents “every opportunity to pay” in many cases, no attempt was made to even pay a portion of the bill.

He said those who made an attempt to pay their bills have remained on the grid.

But Elva Lindo, a mother of four, said she is struggling and just could not afford to pay 10 percent of her now $3,500 bill when BEC offered its assistance program in June.

The program was launched in an effort to reconnect more that 7,000 delinquent residential customers throughout The Bahamas.

Novelet Turnquest-Handfield, a self-employed mason, who has two dependents, said she owes around $13,000.

“I have been trying to pay on it every time I get a couple of dollars, but what they are asking for is a killer,” she said.

“When they (BEC officials) first came up here they were asking you to pay within two years.

“I said I could do mine in three years with a push.

“Then it was changed to two years, and now it is 18 months. How can people afford that?”

Leon Turnquest, a retired contractor, said unemployment has been high on the island for years.

Turnquest said it would take time before residents can make any dent in their bills.

He called on the government to assist before the whole island ends up in darkness.

Turnquest said his bill is $7,000.

He said he managed to come up with the 30 percent ($2,100) required for reconnection, but doubts the next payment will be met.

“People don’t make that kind of money here on this island,” Turnquest said.

“Even after signing the agreement people can’t afford it. And my bill is a joke compared to some people.”

In the House of Assembly last December, Gray said he understood the outstanding bills owed to Morton Bahamas Limited before BEC assumed responsibility for power generation had been “forgiven”.

He said he would work with the government to find out why that had not happened.

Yesterday, Gray said he tried to have the matter resolved, but BEC’s debt burden did not permit it to consider it.

“I was able to get them to offer a payment plan, which [was reasonable],” he said.

“But that was the best they could have done because they too were going through heavy financial losses.

“They could not write it off.”

Asked about the corporation’s cut off policy and why residents were allowed to run up such large bills, Miller said that following the transfer of power generation from Morton to BEC, residents did not pay for 54 months.

But he did not say why BEC went so long without disconnecting supplies.

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