Several months ago the Stabroek Business published a story disclosing, among other things, that a former member of the Board of the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL) had been fingered in a scam designed to conceal the actual amount of electricity consumption at a city business premises and that a serving member of that Board had moved to have an employee removed from her post because she had instructed that his electricity supply be disconnected for a sizeable unpaid bill. The story also dealt with what appeared to be the involvement of functionaries within the company in scams that allowed commercial premises to pay amounts as electricity charges that were considerably less than the amount of electricity that they had consumed. Charges of this nature are nothing new to the company.
The situation has of course taken a considerable financial toll on the company and when one considers that the GPL, through its own inefficiency, has allowed thousands of electricity consumers across the country to go for years without paying electricity tariffs, the picture of loss of income becomes even worse.
Last week’s power disconnection in the West Ruimveldt area was clearly a desperate measure by the GPL to arrest a situation that has now lurched out of control. Many if not most of the affected persons, we are told, had not paid their ‘electricity bills for considerable periods and owed the company millions of dollars in unpaid bills.
Two things should be made clear. First, considerable as electricity charges are and despite the immense financial burden that it places on some consumers, the GPL has a responsibility to enforce penalties for non-payment. Secondly, the eruption that followed last week’s disconnection exercise in West Ruimveldt was unlawful, dangerous and unacceptable.
And yet we cannot escape the conclusion that the GPL has become a victim of circumstances brought upon itself on account of its own protracted failure to properly administer this critical service. Within hours of the disconnection exercise in West Ruimveldt, persons close to the company were providing information about business premises and residential consumers in other areas who have been at least as delinquent as the West Ruimveldth residents but have been allowed to retain their electricity. And understandably, the whole issue of “runnings” within the company and charges of selective disconnection have surfaced anew. In essence, while the company cannot really be faulted for seeking to withdraw the service from delinquent consumers, the West Ruimveldt disconnection exercise has inevitably drawn public criticism of the company’s seriously tarnished image.
One is left to wonder, for example, about the circumstances that have allowed entire sections of the population to consume electricity – apparently over a protracted period of time -without paying for the service. By the same token one wonders about the legality of a disconnection exercise that victimizes those residents of the affected area who have been paying their bills. And if there are rackets and “runnings” that favour consumers who are in a better position than the West Ruimveldt residents to pay their electricity bills, are the charges of selective disconnection not deserving of an investigation?
For reasons that have to do with much more than delinquent consumers – corruption and inefficient administration are among those reasons – the GPL has found itself in such a bind that it now appears to have concluded that it has no choice but to take desperate and decidedly belated measures like the West Ruimveldt mass disconnection exercise. The problem is that while measures clearly need to be taken to boost the company’s revenue collection, any attempt to correct the situation without a carefully thought out plan is likely to give rise to as many problems as it will resolve.
One assumes, for example, that there are other communities or sections of communities which, like West Ruimveldt, have been consuming electricity without paying their bills for protracted periods and it is certainly the case that other consumers are not even covered by the GPL’s billing system. One imagines, however, that it is far from the wisest option to simply replicate the West Ruimveldt disconnection exercise elsewhere without carefully thinking through all of the possible consequences of such a move.
Guyana has not enjoyed a reliable electricity system for more than a quarter of a century, a circumstance that is borne out by the number of domestic and commercial alternative power supply systems that have been in use across the country.
One of the more obvious consequences of this shortcoming is the high cost of production, particularly in the manufacturing sector and the impact on prices at home and competitiveness abroad. Unreliable electricity supply is also believed to be one of the considerations that place limits on investor confidence in Guyana.
In the circumstances, it need hardly be said that a point has been reached where government must look again at the manner in which the GPL is being run. And the agenda for such an enquiry must of necessity include the unending charges of internal corruption, illegal and unregistered electricity ‘connections’ billing problems, electricity tariffs and what would appear to be management deficiencies within the company. The cracks have now become far too numerous to be papered over.