Sunday, October 24, 2021
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Debating or campaigning, transparency or vagueness

When elected Parliamentarians met at Mount Wheldale to debate and affirm the settlement paid to WRB Enterprises to repurchase majority shares in the Grenada Electricity Services Limited (GRENLEC), it became evident it could have been designed to be a well-orchestrated political event.

The government ministers, one by one, stood up and told the Speaker – with a heightened degree of passion and emotion for the viewing and listening public – they were honoured to be part of such a historic occasion. Many members of the House were much more visibly inspired to speak than on previous sittings when they dutifully read from a prepared statement.

Whether they were part of that GRENLEC/WRB history or not, each member relished their speaking time to go back in history and recount parts of the tale that began with the decision by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government to sell pubic assets while they were in office between 1990 and 1995. GRENLEC was on top of their list. The parliamentarians in the House, including the Opposition Leader, had something bad to say about the 1994 deal and much of what has transpired since, overlooking any positive developments by the company.

The government representatives, one by one, praised the New National Party’s vision and the foresight of their leader. Each one had a GRENLEC/WRB tale to tell, from begging for and then having to pay for electricity poles needed in dark corners of villages to getting the company to move on renewable energy initiatives. They all had examples of the company’s focus on profit rather than people. They talked about the future, now that Grenadians can buy the shares and the company will be a Grenadian asset once more. They all spoke as if Grenadians were lined up with cash to invest in the nation’s sole energy company. They spoke about reduced rates, more competition and wonderful opportunities for citizens to get involved in generating solar power. They spoke about how the rates will be regulated and the industry will be structured under the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC). And they all took jabs at the NDC for putting Grenada in this position of having to spend millions to buy back a national asset.

The Minister of Finance referred to the need for renewable energy experts to be part of the management going forward because Grenada must meet its target of 20% renewable energy by 2030 or be cut off from future donor funds.

The Opposition Leader called the agreement scandalous, but he was not satisfied with the government’s explanation about the source of the $63 million (US) to repurchase the majority shares. Government has vaguely stated the funds came from grants and soft loans intended for capital development. These were found, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Business, after a review of all capital projects where money was not spent because of the lockdown due to COVID-19.

The money came from savings on the capital side of the 2020 budget. But that is all the government is willing to tell the Opposition Leader and the country. Perhaps, had the government responded with some specifics as to what ministries or departments were involved in saving money or not fulfilling the terms of a grant, and what grants and soft loans were not fully utilised, the idea of accountability and transparency would become real. Maybe the source is deemed as not the business of ‘the masses’. This argument has even angered a guest on a call in radio programme to the extent that he walked off the set.

Perhaps, with such details open for examination, then the Opposition Leader and the many citizens who are interested in how the government spends or not spends money – even if government has to buy back a utility company as ordered by an international arbitration tribunal – may be reassured about the sale and all of its economic implications.

Instead of enlightening the country about these pertinent money sources, the Prime Minister chose to chastise the Opposition Leader as if he were a naughty child who had not done his homework correctly. The Prime Minister said he was not sure the Opposition Leader has supported the motion or not through his jumbled presentation. He got his answer when the vote was called and there was no Opposition Leader in the House.

Yes, the tone of last week’s sitting of the House of Representatives did have an air of campaign about it. Yes, the next general election is not due until 2023. Yes, the Prime Minister has recently said he will be running. However, putting all that together, one can conclude that the GRENLEC/WRB saga debate in Parliament presented the occasion for a test run looking ahead.

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