The government yesterday tried to win stakeholders’ support for the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, which President Donald Ramotar said his administration should not have to bargain for.
“We have to do everything to put this project back on stream,” Ramotar told those in attendance at the Guyana International Conference Centre at Liliendaal, where the government organised a National Stakeholders Forum on the project However, by the end of the meeting, it was unclear what it had achieved, especially since the opposition parties, whose parliamentary support is critical to advance the project, were not present.
The main hall of the Conference Centre was filled to capacity yesterday morning as several members of government made presentations to stakeholders. However, many of those in attendance were public servants. When asked how they came to attend the function, especially since it was held during working hours, several of them indicated that they received calls from superiors who told them they were to attend the conference.
Accountant and attorney Christopher Ram, one of the chief scrutinisers of the project, Clinton Urling, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), and Ron Webster, Chairman of the Private Service Commission (PSC), were also among those in attendance and submissions after various members of government reiterated the importance of the project and the need for support from the opposition parties.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds wrote to House Speaker Raphael Trotman, requesting the postponement of yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly to hold the consultations to see if the rejected Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and a motion, which government says are crucial to the project, to increase the debt ceiling could be restored before the impending parliamentary recess. Both the AFC and APNU, during last week’s sitting of the National Assembly, voted against the bill as well as the motion and government described the move as “shocking” even though both groups indicated, prior to the sitting, that they would withhold support for matters relating to Amaila until the due diligence study being carried out by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is completed.
When Stabroek News asked Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who was at the consultation, what the government hoped to achieve in the opposition’s absence, he said, “I am hoping that out [of] today’s session, the media, Stabroek News, all the other media, will seek to bring together an arrangement that Amaila can go forward.”
However, when this newspaper attempted to ask another question, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill, who chaired the consultation, refused to accept further questions, stating that the media would have opportunities to ask questions at other forums.
Ramotar, addressing the gathering, stated that the lack of cheap electricity, among other things, currently inhibits Guyana’s development. He said that Guyana’s ability to go further in manufacturing, decrease the electricity cost, and increase the overall earning capacity was being hindered by the opposition to the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and the motion to increase the debt ceiling.
The president also dismissed claims that not enough consultations were held, sharing that the opposition were invited to meetings with the project’s technical experts. He said that many, including the PSC, have realised the importance of the project and have called for those responsible for seeing it to fruition to do just that.
Urling, in his response to the government’s statements, reiterated that the GCCI supports the passage of both the bill and the motion since the government’s presentations on the projects have convinced him of the soundness and feasibility of the project. However, he added that the Chamber also has confidence in the IDB to carry out a technical and economic evaluation of the project, and to ensure that other safeguards are included in the project before committing US$175 million in financing. As a result, he said, “I am open to a reversal of position should the IDB or an independent professional analysis of the project prove otherwise.”
Ram, who made it clear that he was not against the prospect of hydroelectricity, said that he wanted to make sure that the procedure being used by the government and the costs are what they should be. “We all do want it, this is why we do not have to discuss whether Amaila is good or bad. It’s whether the format is good or bad, it’s whether the cost is good or bad,” Ram said.
He added that he has tried to get information on a number of issues relating to the project from the government but to no avail. Ram said that in an effort to put his concerns to rest he has requested to meet with a government a team to discuss his concerns—concerns which he said are held by many other members of society.
Edghill assured Ram that the government is always ready to engage any stakeholder, and said that one of the relevant government officials would be able to say when such a meeting could be held. Housing Minister Irfaan Ali, who stood first to address Ram’s statements, said that he would be more than willing to sit with Ram to smooth out his concerns.