Last Updated on Sunday, 8 January 2017, 8:47 by Derwayne Wills
Former speaker of the National Assembly and long-standing legal professional, Ralph Ramkarran called on President David Granger in a recent facebook post to face the media, after not holding a press conference since October 2015, and discuss what he called government’s contradictory positions on the 165 megawatt Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP).
The President has been utilising his weekly half-hour ‘The Public Interest’ television programme to engage members of the media, only allowing two journalists per week. One journalist is drawn from the state media while the other is drawn from the independent media.
The first ten minutes of “The Public Interest” programme is dedicated to a specific topic decided by the programme’s production team, while the remaining 20 minutes are designated for other questions.
“I recall that long before a year had elapsed of Mrs Janet Jagan’s presidency, an outcry arose regarding her failure to hold a press conference. She eventually held one about one year into her presidency,” Ramkarran said on his facebook page.
“The voices calling out Mrs Jagan in 1997-8 are still around, but have gone silent on President Granger’s failure to hold a single press conference despite having been elected to office one and a half years ago,” he continued.
Ramkarran noted a disconnect between the recommendations of the Amaila report, conducted independently by a Norwegian engineering consultancy firm, and government’s position.
He highlighted one recommendation of the report where it was noted the Amaila project is “the only realistic path for Guyana towards an emission free electricity sector is by developing its hydropower potential. The fastest way forward is to maintain AFHP as the first major step for substituting its current oil fired generation.”
The report also underscored Guyana’s “untapped sources of hydropower.” According to Ramkarran, “the report was greeted negatively… [and] one statement falsified the conclusions.”
Government had issued a statement saying, “NorConsult … provides supporting evidence that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project would not be optimal in its current model and presents an unbalanced risk to the Government and People of Guyana.”
“This obvious falsehood was later corrected by Minister Patterson but still,” Ramkarran noted, “his comments obfuscated the purpose for the Report and contradicted the explanation given by Minister Jordan.”
“Guyana’s hydropower potential has been recognized since the 1960s when the then PPP Government unsuccessfully sought funds to construct two small hydropower facilities,” Ramkarran, a former member of the PPP noted, “during the 1970s-80s the then PNC Government went to great lengths to obtain funding for the $US300 million Mazaruni hydropower plant and to prepare the groundwork for it.”
Ramkarran said further the Guyana Electric Company in the mid-1970s “collapsed due to lack of maintenance and more than 40 years later, GPL has not been adequately upgraded to supply the electricity Guyana needs at competitive cost to supply households, much less to industrialize.”
“Does anyone seriously expect that the alternatives: sun, wind and thermal power, being pushed by the Government, will do the job that AFHP and a second facility will?” he questioned.
“This issue is fundamental to the future of Guyana. A newspaper debate followed by a statement of the Government’s decision are inadequate,” Ramkarran wrote. “The President should host a press conference to clarify Government’s contradictory positions and a full parliamentary debate ought to take place – before a decision is taken.”
“We must not postpone Guyana’s potential industrialization for yet another generation,” he added.
In the report dated December 12, 2016, the consultancy company that reviewed the feasibility of the US$858.1 million project, however, found several technical drawbacks in the original plans including insufficient data to determine potential impact of the dry season, the absence of a bottom outlet and a flawed financial model.
Based on its revisions, NorConsult estimates that it can cost US$57 million less, by removing the US$20 million that have been spent on constructing the Amaila Falls Road and adjustments to contingency, financing fees and Sinosure insurance.
Against the background of perceived high investment risks in Guyana mainly due to political and regulatory reasons, NorConsult said one possible way for Norway to support the project would be to issue guarantees to the project for the repayment of the loan.
“This would reduce the financing costs substantially, and the risks for the equity sponsor of the project. We recommend that possible guarantee support mechanisms are evaluated as part of the further work on the project,” the consultancy company said.