Make or break for Amaila: Sithe wants all parties to agree, APNU still against

Sithe Global yesterday said that there must be consensus among all three parties in Parliament for the Amaila hydro project if it is to continue investing its efforts in developing it and bring it to fruition but up to last night the main opposition APNU was still opposed.

The near 15-year quest for a hydro project at the Amaila Falls on the Kuribrong River in Region Seven could very well collapse today in Parliament leaving recriminations and great uncertainty about the path to future energy needs.

Yesterday,  President of Sithe Global, Brian Kubeck, who responded to a query by this newspaper which sought clarification as to whether the project had to get the all clear from all three parties – namely PPP/C, APNU and AFC said they all have to be on board.

Amaila Falls photo  courtesy GINA
Amaila Falls photo
courtesy GINA

This newspaper sough the clarification in the wake of statements emanating out of the AFC suggesting that it would be willing to support the Bill to create the offset reserve for the Amaila project and the motion seeking to raise the external debt ceiling from $1 billion to $150 billion.

“We need support from all of the Government and both Opposition Parties. The project is too important to proceed without a full consensus,” said Kubeck in an emailed response to this newspaper’s query.

Given Kubeck’s response, one can reasonably assume that even if the AFC supports the measures in the House, along with the Government, the developer, which has so far spent about US$16 million in project development over six years, could pack up and leave.

Speaking with Stabroek News last night, APNU Member of Parliament Joe Harmon said that the party’s position remains the same – that it is resolutely opposed to the project in its present form and in the face of the lack of information about how the tariffs to bring the costs to the consumer down to lower than they are today were calculated. Harmon said, “The APNU’s position has not changed.” He added that the meeting last Wednesday with Sithe Global did little to assuage these lingering concerns.

Speaking on behalf of the AFC, Leader of that party Khemraj Ramjattan said last night that the Government must drastically bring down the level of the ceiling that they want to put in place for loan guarantees. He said that a reasonable level would be around $40 billion. But he said too that this must be tied to the Amaila power purchase agreement with the Guyana Power and Light. He said that the party feared that if left open ended, the ceiling could be subject to abuse by the Government to fund such activities that might have been cut from the budget earlier in the year.

Ramjattan said that regarding the motion to raise the loans guarantee ceiling, it is quite possible for the Government to bring an entirely different motion to circumvent admissibility requirements of the defeated motion. This he said the AFC would be willing to support once it accords with what the party is calling for in terms of the level and its being made specific to Amaila. He said that without these changes, the AFC would reject the motion as it had on the last occasion.

Concerning the Bill to create the offset for the hydro project area, Ramjattan said that this may face different challenges in coming back to the Assembly. But he said that the party is prepared to support it nonetheless.

In recent days the government has mounted an intense campaign for support on the back of the warning by Sithe that it was no longer prepared to stick around without a clear statement by all of the parties. With only the AFC’s support a possibility, the government may have to convince Sithe to hang on even without APNU’s backing and this could possibly lay the groundwork for a broader agreement between the ruling party and the AFC.

The standoff over the Amaila project yesterday had attendant consequences when AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes resigned from his position after it was reported in the Kaieteur News that he was the Company Secretary for the Amaila Hydro power Inc. the company which will be responsible for the project. The AFC has since declined his resignation. (See story on page 11)

The hydropower project has seen bursts of activity and long periods of inaction over the years. In recent years however there has been a determination to go ahead with it which has spudded a series of controversies including the assigning of the Amaila access road to businessman Fip Motilall and the suspension of the contract. From a project estimated at US$340 around a decade ago the value has ballooned to  US$858M today leaving unanswered questions about the final tariff to consumers, the magnitude of the financing costs and the readiness of the Guyana Power and Light to discharge its obligations.

A motion will be moved this afternoon in Parliament for the suspension of the standing orders to deal with two matters deemed crucial to the Amaila project.

A host of groups and individuals have weighed in on the project in recent days.

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