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Opposition divided over Private Sector’s mediation offer in GPL issue

Fearing a harsh economic backlash if there is a 26.7 percent hike in electricity rates, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) on Wednesday offered to mediate in the standoff between government and the opposition to have the GUY$5.2 billion subsidy restored.

“The PSC offers it’s availability to work with the government, GPL (Guyana Power and Light) and the Parliamentary Opposition to resolve this matter in the interest of the country,” the umbrella business organisation said in a statement.

 While Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan warmly welcomed the role of the PSC, Opposition Leader David Granger said his A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) saw no need for a mediator.

 Ramjattan, however, urged the PSC to mediate in getting government to name its nominees to the Public Procurement Commission (PSC) and kick-start that constitutional body that should oversee the award of multi-million dollar contracts.

 “Oh lovely, we would love to have them and as a matter of fact support that but we would also like them to mediate in relation to the fact that we must have a Procurement Commission so having stepped into the ring in relation to one fight, we ought to have them stepping in for some others,” Ramjattan told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

 He hoped that the PSC would not cower to government’s utterances such as socio-economic issues were solely its responsibility.

 Asked whether he believed that the PSC was credible because several of its members were regarded in some quarters as government sympathisers, Ramjattan countered by saying that “we have to assume that they are coming with objectivity and the national interest at heart.”

 Opposition Leader Granger said that while APNU welcomed the PSC’s interest in the matter, his parliamentary coalition was not in favour of a mediator. “We have no problem with negotiating directly with the government. In this regard, we don’t need a sort of ‘go-between’. We don’t need a broker,” he told DemWaves.

 APNU, he said, has so far not sought a meeting with the Guyanese leader about the planned increase in electricity rate increase.

 Granger said, as the constitutional office holder of Opposition Leader, he could call on the President to meet when necessary but he expected such talks would address the opposition’s issues such as the need for presidential assent to opposition-approved bills.

 The PSC said the GPL needs the GUY$5.2 billion to purchase an additional 26 megawatts of generating capacity, an expanded integrated transmission network linking West and East Demerara and Demerara with Berbice, greatly strengthening the reliability of electrical supply in those areas and the deployment of an additional 28 feeders allowing an appreciable load reduction of the currently overloaded distribution system.

 Appealing to the government and opposition to urgently hold talks aimed at restoring the $5.2 billion for those capital works, the PSC called on government to avoid any increase in charges at this time. “We can ill afford to have our economy contract at this point in time, especially with world commodity prices, upon which we depend, showing signs of declining,”

 The PSC  said it firmly believed that an increase in charges for electricity would lead to tremendous hardship for Guyanese and would negate and outstrip the recent proposed increase in the minimum wage to GUY$35,000 and the relief to workers afforded by the reduction in income taxes. 

 The PSC feared that a heavier ‘light bills’ would slow down the economy at a time when its businesses could ill afford that and would increase the risk of rampant inflation. “This rate increase would also lead to a drastic decline in the competitiveness of our beleaguered manufacturing sector and would mean a cessation of operations for many of our struggling smaller businesses,” stated the PSC.

 The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), whose delegation met with President Ramotar on Thursday, said the issues of losses through transmission and distribution and commercial, “do not justify such a drastic increase in electricity rates.’

 At the same time, the union confederation called on the opposition to restore the subsidy or the cost of production for commercial and manufacturing goods, for the domestic, working-class consumers would increase. “Whether sympathizers of government or opposition, the increase will result in untold hardships to all consumers,” said FITUG.

 FITUG includes the the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the Guyana Labour Union (GLU), the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).