Private sector backs hiring of foreign skills for GPL

The country’s key Business Support Organizations (BSOs) – the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the Guyana Manufac-turing and Services Association (GMSA) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) have acknowledged that the performance of the beleaguered Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL) may be enhanced through the infusion of foreign skills including  management.

Earlier this week, following an article published in the July 27th issue of Stabroek News in which Prime Minister Samuel Hinds had disclosed that a recent study had suggested that foreign management be brought in,  Stabroek Business sought the views of the three organizations on the issue of foreign management for GPL. And each of the three, in turn, was unequivocal in embracing the role that overseas management and technical support might play in enhancing the fortunes of the local power company.

“GPL is without doubt in immediate need of capacity building through the intervention of international technical expertise in order to dramatically improve their service delivery across the board, particularly in their Commercial, Financial Management, Supply Chain Management, and power transmission and distribution systems,” the GMSA statement said.

“Management deficiency may not necessarily be the key problem affecting GPL’s inability to satisfy its national mandates, but it certainly is a major element which is more impactful on its customers in its billing and other commercial services, and in the quality and reliability of its output,” the GMSA statement said, adding that “these specific issues (billing and other commercial services and output reliability) were the main reasons why many manufacturers were forced to pursue means of generating their own electricity.” The GMSA said in its statement that the looming prospect of hydropower “with all its concomitant factors” ought to alert the GPL to the fact that it will “require significant changes to and upgrades of its current standing infrastructure… the best way to accomplish this seamlessly is with foreign management inputs,” the GMSA statement adds.   It notes that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) “has also acknowledged and inculcated the need for international expertise to address the company’s deficiencies.”

The GMSA’s position however, is that any foreign expertise should be hired on a transitional basis.  That is to say that foreign experts should be brought in to upgrade consumer and distribution services and to transition the entire operations, but their roles must also inculcate hands-on training of local engineers and managers who will sustain the systems when they depart.  Going forward, the newly trained Guyanese managers and engineers must also have access to international networks for information on advanced technologies.

PSC Chairman Ronald Webster, meanwhile, in a note sent to Stabroek Business said that future demand will place “tremendous load on GPL’s management, many of whom are engineers not management specialists by training.” He noted that it was essential that GPL “establishes a strong corporate culture as a springboard for the future and embarks urgently on a suitable corporate management development programme.” Such a programme, the statement adds, “would not only provide training for Guyanese management but also provide management support as and where needed.”

According to Webster, exposure to new management systems and techniques is essential to the growth and development of any organisation. “Without it a company stagnates and fails,” the statement added.

GCCI President Clinton Urling, meanwhile, said in his communication with Stabroek Business that the issue of whether or not GPL might require an infusión of foreign managers might well be answered  “within the ambit of the acute deficiency of skilled workers that exist in Guyana and which poses a problem to our country’s development.”

In his statement Webster noted that GPL was in the process of installing new advanced distribution systems and that given their cost and importance to the electricity sector it was “essential that the GPL has available the requisite experience and starting skills to handle these systems – there is no room for hit and miss learning methods… Once there is a knowledge gap it is the responsibility of the Board to ensure that qualified/experienced persons from whatever source – local, Caricom, foreign – fill the gap promptly,” he said.

Urling, meanwhile, said that while he could not speak for “the operations of the GPL and what are the major deficiencies facing the entity,” he felt that the entity was unlikely to be immune from the skills challenge facing other private and public sector entities. What needs to be done at GPL is a skeletal analysis of its entire operations and structure “with the aim of identifying inefficient areas and to propose and implement workable solutions to fix those inefficiencies identified,” Urling said.

The GCCI President added that if adequate skilled personnel are needed at GPL and those skills are not available locally, “then I harbour no reservation as it relates to the employment of foreign nationals with the necessary competencies to fill the gaps identified.”

Faced with criticism associated with poor management for more than  twenty-five years GPL was put up for privatization in 1996. In September 1999 the government reached a controversial deal with the Commonwealth Development Corporation/ESBI though even a significant hike in electricity tariffs brought no improvement to the sector. In 2003 the company was sold back to the Government of Guyana.

The local private sector has been sustained in its criticism of the performance of the GPL with the GMSA as a whole placing most of the blame for the sluggish performance of the manufacturing sector over the years on operational inefficiencies within the power company. Local BSOs, however, have all backed the planned Amaila Falls hydro electric project.

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