The estimated 100 persons, who protested under the banner of the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), held placards that criticized A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) which last week Thursday voted down an amendment to the Hydro Power Act and a motion to increase the debt ceiling.
The slogans included “Opposition slowing progress to remain relevant,” “One seat majority holding Guyana’s development at ransom,” APNU/AFC fighting for political power and not hydropower,” Opposition has no vision, we support Amaila Falls,” and “APNU sacrificing Guyana’s future for personal gains.”
When Opposition Leader, David Granger arrived and exited his car near the PYO picket-line, he was greeted by three vocal supporters who were on the sidelines heckling the pro-government protesters. Moments later, he curiously walked across nearer the protesters and muttered “who are these?” After standing briefly and reading the placards, he walked away and headed into Parliament Building.
The combined opposition, which together hold a one-seat majority, had initially sought to tie their support for the amendment and the motion to the smooth passage of four pieces of Local Government Laws. The AFC, APNU and critics like Ramon Gaskin and Christopher Ram have been questioning the real cost of AFHP and predicting that Guyanese will pay more for electricity and that the country will be saddled with higher debt.
At the consultation, which was held at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC), Ram was the harshest critic of the project who was present. There were no other high-profile or known opposition critics among the attendees. In fact, most of the attendees were government ministers, senior public servants and public sector employees as well as teachers who were told to attend the event. Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill assured Ram that he and other experts would be given an audience with government officials to address several concerns. Ram said he had written and called Prime Minister Samuel Hinds on several occasions to seek an audience with him but to no avail.
Addressing concerns by critics, Prime Minister Hinds said when the hydropower project is built Guyanese would pay 12 US cents per kilowatt hour less than half of the 25 cents being paid for power generated by heavy fuel oil and 30 to 37 cents from diesel. “This is what our country will lose if we don’t go forward,” he said.
Contrary to Ram’s claim that Guyana Power and Light (GPL) will initially buy electricity at US$110 annually from AFHI and eventually escalate, the Prime Minister said the standard price would be the US$110 million.
Hinds said AFHI would be able to satisfy a peak demand of 110 megawatts with a 45 megawatt gap that could be absorbed in the first three years. Government hopes that entities that currently self-generate will reconnect to the grid as part of efforts to balance the tariffs. “If things are growing rapidly, we will address the other options to develop other sites,” said Hinds, adding that Brazil’s offer could fructify in another 20 years.
The Prime Minister noted that the issue was not the US$840 million that the project would cost “at this time” but the halving of tariffs.
Commerce Minister, Irfan Ali explained that Guyana’s fuel import bill would be reduced by 20 to 25 percent or US$90 million annually. At the same time, he said, Guyana would earn another US$10 million in the sale of carbon credits by using clean, renewable energy.
In a desperate attempt for public sympathy and support from the political opposition, President Donald Ramotar chronicled the series of consultations with APNU and AFC in the hope of convincing them and addressing their concerns. “In our world today, standing still is not an option. Standing still means that we will be left behind,” he said.
The Guyanese leader said “we have to do everything to put it (AFHP) back on stream” but he did hint how he expected to do so. But he rejected any suggestion that government would engage in horse-trading to win support from the 33-seat opposition majority in the 65-seat House.
He reiterated that AFHP was a capital investment aimed at broadening Guyana’s economic base by exporting more, producing value-added products as part of a package to give the country an “economic boost.”