HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No.15/2013 – July 18, 2013
Mr. Benn: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I am really surprised that I am speaking so early on this matter and even at all. In fact, I thought that this issue would have been one where we would have a healthy interesting discourse. Then we would have decided for this moment here and now, what the question of power - not political power again, but hydro-power energy - means to our country Guyana.
We have always said that the missing term in our development equation is the question of cheap power. Our country will always remain poor, backward and underdeveloped if we cannot solve the question of power, in this case hydro-power.
When we look at our waterfalls - the Kaieteur Falls, Tumatumari, the Cheong and Tiger Hill, Moco Moco, all those waterfalls what we are seeing is power going to waste. It is power going over the falls going to waste. Here it is today and now, for the very first time in the history of our country, we have the ability in our own hands in this Parliament, the Tenth Parliament, to make the kinds of decisions which will solve this great problem for our country.
There was a time when we were being exterminated as Guyanese. There was a time when we were slaves as a nascent Guyanese nation. There was a time when we were serfs; we call it Indentureship in Guyana. There was a time, even when we became independent, we did not know where we were going in our own country. When we were under colonialism, imperialism and all those other isms, what was happening was that those other people were taking our energy and our physical power at the individual level and they country’s resources to use it to build their own countries. Here it is now, in this day, when we are free and independent and in our own Parliament and cannot make a decision in this House, as a collection, to decide... [Interruption] ... to make a decision on the question of power for Guyana.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, please address the chair.
Mr. Benn: We are free and independent. [Interruption] We have a parrot at Hon. Member, an orange winged parrot. I think they call it creature, sometimes a screecher. It disturbed us recently; it was a young parrot, it was growing up and we decided to release the parrot and we put it outside and then discovered that this parrot would not fly away or would not go away. It wanted to be fed by us and to stay around. We were trying to wean it away. This parrot, we discovered, did not understand it was not appreciative of the concept of being free; did not understand, does not understand the question of being free or what freedom meant. The responsibility, integrity, sincerity and the interest in making the kinds of decisions, bipartisan - let me say tri-partisans because there is another party on the far side here and I stress the far side, that here in this Tenth Parliament we cannot make a decision on this very important issue.
When we were doing the upper Mazaruni Development Project, a hydro-power project, we wanted that entire project to succeed. I remember going up into Upper Mazaruni to work on the Dam Site Investigations for that project. We did drillings; we had the core analysed; we did all the studies to make that project a reality. It did not come to fruition. There were claims that it was too big; there were claims that there were issue of the sovereignty of the Essequibo with respect to the project. It did not succeed. It benefitted from, I believe, the critical support from the other political parties and from all Guyanese in respect to it becoming a success because we all wanted it to succeed. It did not have the investors at that time.
Here and now when we have investors lined up; when we have the partners lined up; when we have a builder of the project, of the hydro-power dam here in the country working in the area to go to the dam site, to build the hydro-power dam; here it is we are saying now. Here it is we do not want hydro-power. Here it is the question needs to be asked, “Whether we need to wait another 40 or 50 years to get hydro-power in Guyana. If we do not get it here and now that is likely what is going to happen. If Amaila fails there is no other hydro-power current that will come to term in this country. If we are unable to get the Amaila Falls Hydro-Power Project going, we would give a serious negative signal with respect to this kind of development in our country again.
I am not a man who is accustomed to begging. I am prepared here tonight to beg the Members on the other side of this House to make a clear despatched assessment of what they need to do in the National interest. This is not a political interest, this is the National interest. We have a situation where the long termed commodity prices for the products which we make in Guyana are positive; generally for gold, sugar and agricultural products, bauxite and the manganese if we get it just now, being produced again. Our economy is sufficiently diversified at the natural resource level to be able to benefit from power coming in and on-stream in our country. It would be a tragedy here tonight if we are not able to vote positively on the question of these amendments, which are necessary for the going ahead of the Amaila Falls Hydro-Power Project.
I would like to paraphrase this discussion by getting a little Shakespearian here tonight. At the end of this day we will have to decide whether we have a tragedy or comedy or whatever else, but I would like to go to Brutus and Julius Caesar. Brutus said:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted all the voyage of their life
Is bounded in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea we are afloat
And we must take the current when it serves
Our loose or ventures.”
That is the exact situation we have here tonight. We have to decide as a nation whether we are taking our fortune or whether we will continue to be in shadows and whether we will want to endure the miseries with respect to the development of our country.
We have identified before, and the other speakers mentioned it before I did, the improvements which will come about as a result of progressing along the value added chain with respect to agriculture, with respect to commerce, with respect to industrialisation of our country. We are aware that we are unable to do much more with our bauxite reserves unless we have cheap power and that is cheap hydropower that we cannot make a return to bauxite and alumina processing and even contemplate aluminium smelting unless we have cheap power.
I am surprised that anyone would think that the question of power is one that could be treated so flippantly. I would want to remind them that recently President Obama, of the United States of America, visited South Africa and I believe some time during his tour he announced a several billion dollar initiative for power for Africa because it was recognised that the main impediment to the development of Africa at this time was the question of cheap available power for its development for its industrialisation. We have the same question here, but here it is we have an investor, we have the builders, we have our people on the ground, we have invested in the roads, we have our young people who are engineers out there working day and night to make a reality of this project and here it is there is a suggestion that we will not be able to do this project.
I would like to point out that our neighbours, as was said, the Surinamese at Brokopondo, the Venezuelans and the Guri Dam and other projects, the Brazilians at the Paragominas and the Amazon and many other places are moving ahead quickly. They have already sequestered their waterfalls, their damns, their hydro-power. They are expanding on them with respect to their projects and here we are still piddling around about this matter. We are still piddling around with this matter. Hon. Members, including a Former Minister of Finance of Guyana, are here heckling us on this question of hydro-power for Guyana.
I would like to remind the Hon. Members on the question of power we have made great efforts with respect to oil and gas exploration as was said. We do not have to do all the seismic testing, the drilling and all of these other things. We have the sources identified for the hydropower dams. We have a live project on line being developed and here again we are at a situation where we are on a reverse course with respect to the development of our country. The secrustration of the biodiversity area is important is important with respect to what is required for these levels of projects today. If we had not come so far with respect to this project we would not have been talking in these terms on this project. We would not have been making any attempts to modify the 1956 legislation to bring it up to date to internationally acceptable norms, acceptable to no less an institution like the IDB so that this project can go ahead. We are exactly at the point where we have to make the type of decisions all for ourselves for this project to go ahead and it would be a sad night, tonight, if this matter is not resolved in a positive way. It would really be a sad day.
I have criticised this Parliament before. I said it was a failed Parliament and I gave many instances before in this House in presentations where I was very concerned that we as national leaders were not making the kind of decisions where we seemed to be marred in pettiness, jealousy, petulance, malice, all of that. We forget what is good for the country. We forget that we have to answer to the coming generations with respect to what we have done to develop the country, with respect to the kinds of decisions we would make to develop our country. We owe it to the future generations to let them have better lives than we have had. The promise that we have inherited from the generations of the past we have to carry on for future Guyanese generations. We have to assure them of a better life than we have had and the overarching question of hydro-power, of the industrialisation, the development of this country moves on the question of this decision with respect to Amaila. Without any plain consideration of oil or gas, which might not happen for a next seven years perhaps, the clear choice of a resource which I said goes over the falls to waste, we see it, we know it, is the question of the waterfalls and how we make use of that power. We would not really be fulfilling the promises of the generations past. We would not be giving any promise to the generations of the future if we throttle the development of the country. What is going on here in this Parliament is that we are throttling, we are strangulating the development of our country. We are not rising to the great task of leading and developing our country. We seem to be unable to make a clear and dispassionate choice with respect to what is good for Guyana and that is what is the great unfortunate thing about these engagements and these discussions and the voting in this House.
The establishment of an offset area for the Amaila Falls Hydro-power Project, the regulations and the authority with respect to making sure that there is environmental monitoring, mitigation and protection of the offset area not only goes in concert with what is required to move the project forward but with respect to international commitments, international standards and norms for a project of this nature but it is also in concert with our issues, our concerns with respect to our Low Carbon Development Strategy for Guyana’s development. Moreover, the question of the social and environmental protection, the question of mitigating those impacts with respect to the changes in the regulations are critically important to make sure that it has social sustainability. I want to, again, call upon, our colleagues on the other side of the House and, I say again, I beg our colleagues on the other side of the House to join with us to make the kind of decision, to make the kind of choice which will bring dignity, pride, industrial efficiency and development and cheap power to the people of Guyana. That is what I want us to make, that type of decision. Any other decision, any other action would be wrong and would be condemned in the history of this country if it does happen. Let me say that after all these years of working and reading and looking around and seeing the struggles which were made with respect to the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-power Project we want to see hydropower in our own lifetime. I want to see hydropower in my own life time. Perhaps I have ten more years or 15; I do not know what will happen. I want to see hydropower in my own lifetime and the Guyanese people and our Guyanese future generations deserve to have cheap hydropower in Guyana. Again the overarching problem with respect to power in Linden and all of these other places... The question of power in Linden where people were perhaps mislead, some to protest unlawfully, some misled to their deaths unnecessarily and unfortunately that we could make that sacrifice useful and important if we make the right kind of decision tonight. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members. [Applause]