The recent Amaila Falls Hydro Project national debate was not without its teachable moments. In fact there were several such moments. I have chosen to comment on two that are to be found in Mr Urling’s response to Mr Carl Greenidge (SN, September 10).
The crux of the matter was not “whether, or not” to invest in hydropower. I do not think that there is a single Guyanese who needs to be convinced that cheaper energy would improve his/her standard of living. But, the project marketing strategy by the government left a lot to be desired, and as a result the project collapsed for want of accountability and transparency. Every farmer knows from experience that the ground must be properly prepared before sowing the seed. It is no different with regard to the acceptance of ideas, or projects. The support of citizens must be cultivated and nurtured.
Mr Urling’s suggestion that the leaders “agree on the protocol for procuring the services of an independent, reputable regional or international investment firm to review the economic feasibility of the project and propose recommendations…” is itself fraught with problems. First, there is the agreement on the criteria for “independent, reputable.” Second, when Guyanese are ignorant of their true energy situation, consultants can tell us anything, which may not be in our best interest, but which we accept because we are unaware of our true condition, or of existing options– we have done no homework, not to mention having to pay for something we really do not need as so often happens.
However, Mr Urling does place due emphasis on the paramount requirement at the end of his suggestion: “in particular, the Guyanese citizenry can accept.” Had the government engaged in the development of a national energy policy, citizens would have been actively involved from the first day – from the ground up. They would have been keenly aware of the issues, their complexities, the available options, and their comparative costs.
Members of the government either forgot, or never learnt this fundamental: the individual’s role as an enfranchised citizen of this Cooperative Republic; Guyanese citizens are the principal and permanent rulers of the Guyanese society. Politicians who canvass citizens and ask to be elected to public office every 4 or 5 years, are transient rulers in the service of Guyanese citizens and are accountable to the Guyanese electorate. Hence my utter dismay when the Minister of Finance accused the opposition of leaking information into the public domain. This was not a question of national security being at stake. This was information to which the citizens of Guyana were entitled.
What the private sector should constantly bear in mind is, that government is the biggest, and the most important business in this country, and the manner in which this business is conducted will affect every other business in the country.
One would, therefore, expect the private sector to urge the government to follow the accepted procedures and protocols of a modern democracy. Decisions regarding energy projects should be grounded within the context of a national energy policy. The context is what gives meaning to and highlights the issue. There should be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it – first things first!
The last attempt to develop an energy
policy took place in 1994, almost twenty years ago. Who is responsible for this lapse? Is it the Prime Minister’s Office? Is it the Guyana Energy Agency?
In 2008, a response to a KN feature captioned ‘Blame the government,’ contained the suggestion that “our government needs a modern energy policy that is informed by the continuous collection and analysis of a vast array of data.” Three years later in ‘National Science and Technology policy’ (SN, March 27, 2011), it was advocated that the National Science and Technology policy should also address an energy policy. More recently Prof Suresh Narine, Head of Institute of Applied Science and Technology, in a National Economic Forum called for a Task Force to create a national energy policy.
The creation of a national energy policy involves the collection of a variety of information with regard to the use of energy in all sectors and at all levels of human endeavour throughout the length and breadth of Guyana. Such a project provides immense opportunities for student involvement. Groups (there is safety in numbers) of middle and upper secondary school students in every region of Guyana can actively participate in the collection and the preliminary analysis of information relevant to the creation of a national science policy. What’s more, this exercise is not only pregnant with issues that would make excellent topics for interdisciplinary studies and school debates, but could also do much to enhance environmental and technological literacy within the general population.
The execution of the activities involved in the creation of a national energy policy would have at least two major benefits, or outcomes: 1) citizens would not only become more aware of the pertinent issues, but would be able to better comprehend their complexities, and as a result would be able to make informed choices; and, 2) decisions regarding the source, production, and regulations governing various aspects of energy use would be based on quantitative and objective data.
The lesson to be learned from the AFHP debacle is: When the stakes are high the first steps are critical and should never be taken for granted.
Clarence O Perry