Focus | BPL is not in crisis, but Bahamas, we have a problem

Is Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) in a crisis? The dictionary defines “crisis” as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”. We are not sure that BPL is quite there. One could imagine a more desperate and dangerous situation for the power company; say being unable to supply its private and commercial customers electricity for most of any day, or most of the days of the week, or an explosion that destroys most of its generating capacity.

Crisis or not, what we are experiencing through BPL is unacceptable. It’s harmful to both the quality of life in this country and the well-being of our economy. These rolling blackouts are simply atrocious, especially given that we were told that the millions of dollars in investments would have made this a thing of the past this summer. BPL’s management must hold itself accountable for this fiasco. It was the new chairman and his team that promised better this summer. If, therefore, they found out that they would not be able to meet these expectations (once again that they set themselves), they ought to have come to the public immediately and said so and then explained why. Anyone in business, even in private life, knows that things do not always go as planned, but when other people are relying on your performance, it is only common courtesy or professionalism to give them a heads up about how that performance may be compromised going forward.

BPL carries a huge load in the life and commerce of The Bahamas. Its staff have over the years provided the necessary electrical services to contribute to the economic and social development of the nation. It was once a reliable, profitable and capable company. Things seemed to have gone wrong with the organization sometime between 2003 and 2005. Alarmingly, it has not recovered. Its many boards have come and gone, each seeking, indeed promising, better. That “better” has not come in some 15-plus years. BPL was, for most of that time, Bahamian owned and Bahamian operated. The only time it was managed by foreigners, the Christie administration – once described by former Prime Minister Perry Christie as a “black nationalist government” – had it so.

BPL is our problem, a unique Bahamian problem. Each day of struggle speaks to our capacity to rise to the challenge of addressing our own problems. What are we doing wrong? Why can we not get it right? One thing is clear, if we don’t get it right, crisis or not, BPL’s issues will levy such a huge cost on this nation’s development that it will take decades to recover. In a competitive world, unreliable, costly electricity is an economic death sentence to both local and international business prospects. We need to get on top of this BPL problem now.

• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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