By Erica Williams
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds says that the increase in electricity tariff for Lethem was agreed upon between the residents and the Lethem Power Company (LPC) last year.
He said that the increase came with the understanding that the cost of electricity per Kilowatt hour (Kwh) will become more palatable when the generators arrive and start operation at the new LPC plant, which is presently being constructed.
Resident Carl Parker said that while they agreed on the increase, residents did not agree on the amount the electricity cost would be increased by. “When we received the letter informing us of the amount the electricity was increased by we were all surprised,” Parker told Stabroek News.
Another resident, John Beckles, added that the residents are willing to sit and have a discussion with LPC regarding the increase. He added that residents are fine with an increase but feel that the current $75 per Kwh is too high.
He also doubted Hinds’ statement that when the new LPC Power Station is constructed and the generators are installed the cost for electricity will be more palatable. “Nothing goes up and then comes down back in Guyana. When fuel price increases internationally, it increases in Guyana but when the price goes down back internationally, it doesn’t go back down in Guyana,” Beckles said.
He asked that a specific time for the completion of the new PLC Power Station and installation of the generators be stipulated, since he felt that it would take a very long time for the cost of electricity to become more palatable.
Parker also said that the residents have signed a letter addressed to Hinds and a petition to the National Assembly.
Hinds acknowledged receipt of the letter during a telephone conversation with Stabroek News yesterday and said that he will respond to the residents in due time.
The letter and petition, Parker said, seeks justification because the residents of Lethem need answers and are willing to stage a protest if they are not satisfied with the Prime Minister’s response.
“We want to be justified if we decide to take to the streets,” Parker said.
The letter stated that while Lethem’s residents recognise the cost for producing electricity, they feel that it is impossible for residents to pay such a high increase. They viewed the increase as steep and felt that they should have been consulted in relation to the magnitude of the increase.
The residents also told this newspaper that they were informed by the chairman of LPC board, John Macedo, that the cost to produce one Kwh of electricity was $105. However, they are disputing this claim since they said that during a meeting at the Arapaima Primary School, in August of last year, Hinds told them the cost was between $60 and $65.
Hinds, however, said that the cost to produce electricity would range between a minimum of $100 and $125 per Kwh.
He also reiterated acting LPC CEO Daniel Gajie’s claim that residents are being granted the first 15 Kwh of electricity with no charge. Hinds said that the 15 Kwh leeway is to provide a leverage to persons living in Lethem. “The government is aware that a lot of people living in Lethem may not be in the cash economy as yet, thus this initiative,” Hinds said.
Residents claim that prior to the increase, they would pay $45 per unit of electricity after the first 15 free units and then $55 per unit at 45 units and up. But, they say, they now pay $75 after the first 15 free units.
Residents are also calling for LPC to be audited, saying that Macedo told them at a meeting that LPC received $80 million from the government for the construction of the new plant but that they were later informally told the LPC received $143 million instead.
However, Hinds said in response to this claim that the new power station is a work in progress, and added that while the government would have given $80 million to LPC, a lot of times, as construction progresses, additional funding may be required.
Lethem residents also said that they feel LPC should resort to purchasing its fuel directly from Brazil, in the event fuel cannot be purchased from Georgetown. They said that what LPC does is to involve a third party by going through middlemen to purchase fuel from Brazil. This move, the residents feel, would increase the cost of fuel because the middleman’s profit will have to be paid in addition to fuel cost and expenses to get it to Lethem from Brazil.
Hinds said that LPC cannot send a fuel tanker/truck to Brazil because Guyana’s vehicle insurance is much lower than Brazil’s and vehicles crossing the border to Brazil must meet Brazil’s insurance standards.
Residents are also demanding that a Consumer Representative, selected by them, be appointed to LPC board; the various categories of consumers to be separated and made to pay for electricity according to their financial abilities; for the LPC to be tied in arrangements with the Public Utilities Commission; and a “qualified” head for LPC.