We should be making aluminum here but gov’t indecisive

Dear Editor,

When I was in Parliament I was rotating as Chairman of the Economic Services Committee [ESC] with Gail Teixeira of the PPP/C, and we asked GPL to come before the committee to tell us what was going on at GPL and in particular what were their plans to explore renewable power opportunities for Guyanese, this was sometime late in 2008 or early 2009.

The minutes of this meeting are there in Parliament for any enterprising young reporter to investigate, I am not sure if the then PM Samuel Hinds was with the delegation, I believe that he was, but Board Chairman Winston Brassington and CEO Bharat Dindial were there.

What I heard at that time was that the Amaila Hydropower project would cost 180 million US dollars to build the dam, and 200 million US dollars to bring the power to the coast. A total of US$380M. Sometime in 2009 I left Guyana to live temporarily in the US and returned in 2011, I say temporarily since I have never applied for a Green Card to live in the US. When I came back after an absence of less than two years, the cost of Amaila had risen to 800 million US dollars. Now in a recent article we are told that Minister Trotman is saying that it is now tagged at US$900M-plus and is still on the table as far as he is concerned. This hydro project is tagged at 165 megawatts and was deemed too costly by this same government, as recently as last year 2017.

Also, why build a plant which can barely service us now? Most of our big manufacturing businesses generate their own power, all the fisheries, all the drinks manufacturers including Banks, DDL, all the sawmills, places like Giftland, etc.

And for example, what are we planning to do with our bauxite? Keep selling the raw ore for US$35/per ton forever? Or try to make aluminum which sells at between US$2000-2500 per ton. To have hydropower potential such as ours  and bauxite ore in the same country is a gift from the Almighty.

One ton of bauxite sells for between 32-38 dollars US and one ton of Alumina sells for around 300 US per ton but the alumina price has been fluctuating quite a bit, “Metal Bulletin’s ‘benchmark alumina index’ recorded lows of $198 in December 2015, which rallied to highs of $481 in October 2017, with multiple ups and downs in between.” Two tons of bauxite are normally required to make one ton of alumina, but the purity of the ore will make it higher or lower, and four tons of bauxite or 2 tons of alumina are required to make one ton of aluminum. All that is separating us from selling aluminium at US$2000-2500 per ton, which is made from four tons of bauxite ore [US$35×4] which earns only US$140, is electrical power! Even if we leave this bauxite in private hands [Chinese] we will still insist that they must make aluminum, or we should buy the ore and make the aluminum ourselves. We must stop putting decision-makers in power with a salt goods shop mentality. The PPP/C Government refused to subsidize the bauxite Industry which has led to its sorry state today, Mr. Jagdeo himself said words to the effect that the industry can do what it wants to do, as long as he does not have to supplement it from the consolidated fund. I personally heard him say so at a media brief when I was the publisher of the Evening News.

My reaction is that Amaila is too small to do much except make our current power more reliable, but at that high cost of US$900m for that small amount of power, it is probably a dicey project in terms of making our power cheap enough to make us competitive. If so, what would be the point of doing it? It’s just posturing. It’s supposed to be a closed issue!

In June 2017, the government used the Norconsult report on the viability of the project to slam the door shut on Amaila. In 2018, exactly one year later to the day, Minister Trotman is now saying that it is still on the table? That we had a new investigation over a two-year period which will give us a decision by December 2018! Did he not know about this in June 2017? Because if a two-year study will end in 2018 December it must have been started in December 2016!

And this is not the first time we are seeing this indecision hampering decision making. The type of the Demerara Harbour Bridge construction is also ‘floating’ for several years without a decision. One month it’s four-lane, a few months later it’s a three-lane, first it will be non floating, now its floating and what is wrong with a locating it few hundred feet to the north of the current location? I will not elaborate further on the fact that they have an external debt of over US$1.5 billion,  have achieved the great distinction of making our economy contract to 2.1% in 2017, have made an agreement for our oil which will probably not benefit us, and in fact can bankrupt this nation if there is some unfortunate accident and we send several millions of gallons of oil into the Eastern Caribbean. We made an agreement which will make us clean it up with money we don’t have! We can’t even clean up garbage in Georgetown, we tried, we emptied the treasury, and it’s still a dump. One can hardly drive on Georgetown’s roads. The only plan seems to be to tax Guyanese to death.

There are a lot of people in this country with computers I want to suggest that you visit this site https://adst.org/2016/06/ dont-give-dam-feud-financing-aswan-high-dam/ and see what one determined leader of vision, Nasser of Egypt, did for his country amidst numerous major world shattering challenges, to get the Suez Canal back for Egypt and to build the Aswan high dam. 

Yours faithfully,

Tony Vieira  

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