HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No.15/2013
Mr. Benn: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. They say “cometh the hour, cometh the man” and here again tonight we are taking another run at the important question of advancing a significant national project and I think that we went into a great deal of explanation, a great deal of effort with respect to having a national understanding, a national consensus, on this project and it is indeed disturbing to me to hear the presentation just made by the Hon. Member, Mr. Carl Greenidge, on the question of the Amaila Falls Project, on the issues of various details. We do not mind the criticisms, the critiques, the discussions with respect to getting certain information or to get it as right as we can under the circumstances so that a reasonable, rational consensus could be made but what we are really discussing here tonight in this motion, in the Prime Minister’s document with its amendments of the 1955 legislation in the Hydroelectric Bill 2013, Bill No. 15 of 2013, relates to making amendments which allow for an offset area with respect to the environmental management, protection and mitigation of environmental damage for the project so that a specific financing or project goal with financing implications could be met to advance the project. That is what this is simply about. That is what this document is about. [Mr. Nagamootoo: You did not tell the Prime Minister.] No. I am telling Mr. Greenidge.
Mr. Speaker: No. You will tell the Speaker. You will direct your comments through the Speaker.
Mr. Benn: Mr. Speaker, through you, I am...
Mr. Speaker: All questions will be deemed rhetorical.
Mr. Benn: I am again informing Mr. Greenidge, the Hon. Member, through you, that this is what the thing is about; that we have to achieve the adoption in the 1955 Hydroelectric power act – amendments which allow us to take care of the critical issues which abound today with respect to these types of large-scale developments which have environmental impacts and which have resonance in international field, in lobby groups, in financial support groups and so on and which could impair the project and we needed to get this amendment done to get our development part to the IDB which is putting money or also handling money for us through the GRIF project. We needed to get this in so that this funds will flow and the project will advance, even while we continue discussions and we dot the 'I's and 'T's which the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, spoke about and it is really distressing again to sit down and hear again all of these issues which the Hon. Member either referred directly to or brought up again in this honourable House with respect to this matter. It is not simply in fact the question of a contest or a discussion between the Hon. Members Mr. Hinds and Mr. Greenidge but, as I said before, it is a question of our country going forward.
The Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge suggested that there is doubt about the transformative nature of the project. The Hon. Member Greenidge refers to some documents and presentations made by Professor Clive Thomas on the intrinsic economic wisdom, the economic transformational impact of the project. He talks about the issues of corruption and fraud, etcetera. He extends the discussion to talk about the difficulties, the inabilities, the failings, somewhat, of GPL but again we say that this project is important. It is the single most important national economic transformative project that we have attempted over the last 20 or 30 years in Guyana. It is the single most important one. I need to repeat that every time we look at our falls, every time we talk about Guyana being the land of many waters, every time we go into the creeks and we look at our falls coming down by gravity it is power being wasted. At Amaila, where we attempted to sequester, to damn and to have that power come into our economy to reduce the cost of economic development, to give a great momentum, to give a great impetus to our economy, even if the tariffs do not drop as dramatically as perhaps we may want to suggest the very fact that you have cheap, reliable, on-demand power will give a tremendous fillip to this economy.
Perhaps we need to do that analysis to show that perhaps we will be talking about growth rates greater than 10% going forward in the next few years after Amaila and that the power that the GPL sets and the sets that Banks and all the others have there will really be as standby power for when the water goes low or something. That is what it will become and we will not have to deal with the avoided cost of importing fuel into our country. We have to import fuel into our country. Every bolt, every piston ring, every engine block at GPL that has to changed, everything has to be imported and here it is in our hands here, in front of us power is going to waste and we are floundering and piddling on the matter; we are piddling. Some of us would want us to have the only type of power that starts with ‘p’.
I said before, here in this House, and I took it back to historical things, and I know the Hon. Member Baveghems said the last time when I talked about the history that she does not want to hear about the history, ‘We don’ want hear history.’ I wonder why they have a leader in APNU who is an historian, I understand? I want to read something to go back to this question of power and how our power was used to benefit and gain other societies and other people and left us backward and behind. In these hot August days and while the Minister of Culture Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony, opened up the monument for the 1823 slave rebellion I was reading Viotti da Costa’s book on the Demerara Slave Rebellion. [Interruption] It is power I am talking about power. I am talking about power. Ms. Da Costa, who is a Brazilian researcher, in Chapter 2, ‘Contradictory Worlds, Masters and Slaves’, this is what she says:
“The devil is in the Englishman, he makes everything work. He makes the negro work, the horse work, the ass work the woodwork, the water work and the wind work.”
Mr. Speaker: That book was written by a Brazilian?
Mr. Benn: A Brazilian researcher.
Mr. Speaker: You should see what they are doing to Africans in Brazil for a long time.
Mr. Benn: Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that you want to introduce yourself into the debate. I do not want to debate with you, Sir, on the question of the status of Africans in Brazil. I am aware that it is improving. I am speaking about a research done by a Brazilian researcher of the Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1873. This is an eminent researcher and I am sure that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition is aware of this book.
Mr. Ramjattan: What is the relevance?
Mr. Benn: The relevance is my going back to the question of why do we want power in Guyana? Why do we want power? Historically, I repeat, our first people were exterminated in the colonisers’ effort to have them work for the colonisers; that slaved and the indentured were brought here to work and it allowed for the creation of the time and the space to develop an industrial revolution in Britain and Europe to the benefit of those societies and I said before that the important question... The significant problem we have in the development of our economy is that the energy term in our development equation has not been resolved. We have to import oil, we have to import gas at significant costs and we have to generate power at significant cost and effort at great unreliability and the solution is in front of our hands in those many waterfalls and rapids going over. We have never been closer to the resolution of this problem as we are now. We have never have been as close to this matter as this point in time. Here it is, for want of a simple amendment we talk about dotting ‘I’s and crossing ‘T’s.
When we were exploring for oil off the Corentyne and we had the issues with the Surinamese there was a great national distress and vexation when we had the incident out there with the CGX rig and one would have thought that this effort now, having had that experience and when one tries to realise the import of this issue now that all Guyanese on all sides, particularly in this House would have join together, as they did then, to have a resolution of this matter in a very staged and systematic way but here again we are floundering. Here again we are not putting in the right context what the effort is about. Here it is again, and even while we are talking, we have the issues in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf, the crisis in Egypt... Even while we are speaking the price of oil is going up. It has gone up over the last month or so by $15 to $20. While we are talking and discussing and not finding a resolution, the things for which we really cannot afford to import we have to import and pay a lot of money for and which eventually we should be able to avoid paying for is going up. [Mr. Nagamootoo: Pay for inefficiency at GPL, and incompetence...] I am saying that all the talk of inefficiency that the Hon. Member Nagamootoo is referring to, incompetence and all of those things will be wished away, will be set aside by the coming into operation of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project.
The Hon. Member Greenidge spoke about ‘What is GPL doing about improving the efficiency of the delivery of power?’ In spite of all the presentations done here, and particularly the last time, maybe he did not hear that we have people here putting in substations and so on to improve and to reduce the technical losses which relate to GPL but that is not the issue here. The issue is that by using power, wasted now in Guyana, we will be saving a lot of money with respect to imports and we will have the opportunity to have greater growth in our economy. That is what it is about. The introduction of these amendments allows us to take the next step to advance the project but here we are quarrelling, we are bringing in Sithe Global, we are quarrelling about every other issue with respect to the project. We are putting the question of the continuation of the project in serious doubt. In fact I believe that if Sithe Global says ‘You need a national consensus in this Parliament if the project is to go forward’ it virtually means that the project is almost dead. That is what it means. I am saying that if they say that they suggest that the whole House has to vote on all sides in support of the project that it could be virtually dead. [Interruption] The Hon. Member is talking about profits for Sithe Global. We want to have profits along with our development partners for all of our people and profits which will show up in the economic number of our country which shows greater growth in our economy.
I believe that if this Parliament is unable, at this time, to pass these amendments, given this particular situation with the project at that time to me, it would reflect criminal negligence on behalf of the Parliament. I repeat what I said the last time, that I am saying that it would be akin to criminal negligence by this Parliament if we do not assure the health and well-being of the country and economy. If we are not able to assure a better life for the future generation of Guyanese any negativisation of these amendments, here tonight, it is akin to criminal negligence. That is my position on this matter.
We come and speak and there are a lot of religious people here, and our prayer, I believe, we borrow a lot of it from Kahlil Gibran. It is Rabindranath Tagore, I am corrected. We talk about the “safety, honour and happiness of the President”. We preach about “the peace and prosperity of Guyana.” I am saying that the question of Amaila Falls Hydropower Project advancing relates to these two issues. It relates principally to the safety, honour and happiness of the Guyanese’s people and the peace and prosperity of Guyana - the people first. I would be ashamed, at the end of the day, if the lineal political descendants of Burnham and Jagan, in this House, are unable to come on a consensus on this matter. It was Burnham who struggled hard and long to achieve Upper Mazaruni Hydropower Project. It was Jagan who work hard to try to get ALCAN to set up an aluminium smelter in Guyana after he successfully got it to establish an aluminium plant in Linden. Again, it would be a sad night if the lineal political descendants of Burnham and Jagan are unable to come to a consensus on this matter.
I want to point out a few examples of other countries which have come up in similar circumstances as ours and which have, somehow, come to a different position on the questions of power than the approach that we are perhaps taking, fairly, recent developed countries that have come out of colonialism, imperialism and all of those things. I want to make reference to the Aswan Dam in Egypt.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I do not know but I find as we get closer to midnight any and everything is said. I am asking that we stay the course and get this Bill through and get a vote on it as soon as possible.
Mr. Benn: Yes Mr. Speaker and that is why I want to remind this House of its historical responsibilities with respect to this. I am saying that I want to remind that in Egypt... [Interruption] This is the Bill I am speaking to. It is on the question of power for the Guyanese people. The new Egyptian President Nasser, in 1952, stated that the key objectives of the Egyptian Government was to the realisation of hydropower in his country and so the Aswan Dam was built which, eventually, resulted in 2,100 megawatts of power in Egypt. It was for the first time that most people in the countryside got any power; for the first time they got two crops for the year of cotton and wheat, and those other things. We could talk about.
I could talk about, in the United States of America, the Hoover Dam, established in 1936, which brought 2,000 plus megawatts of power into the United States of America system at a time shortly after the great depression and which was a tremendous flip to the development to the economy of it at that time. The fact is that the Edison Electric Company was one of the earliest company which was put to develop that project.
I could talk about Ghana, Akosombo Dam on the Volta River system, 568 megawatts, then 768 megawatts, then 912 megawatts and now being expanded to 1,000 plus megawatts. It is now working on Bui Dam which would bring another 400 megawatts of power into its system and this is being done with a Chinese company CENO Hydro which is building this dam. It is expected to come in to full generation in 2014 - a tribute to Kwame Nkrumah’s dreams for Ghana.
I could speak too and remember the Members about the great Three Gorges project in China which has brought about the tremendous transformation in the Chinese economy by ventures of harnessing 18,000 megawatts of power for China.
I could speak about the large projects in India - the Tehri, the Mulah Apergi, the Bhakra and the Sardar Sarovar. The Prime Minister of India, at that time, Jawaharlal Nehru said that those hydropower projects were the temples of the resurgent India. We are apparently here trying to grapple with the aspirations, the ideals, the beliefs, affections, the hatred, perhaps too, which relate to and touch the Guyanese’s soul, and our decision tonight, with respect to this matter, will ultimately put us to the assay. It will assay the metal of our politician soul at this time. I repeat again, if we are unable to decide to advance this project forward, in spite of the anxieties and the dotting of the “i’s” and the crossing of the “t’s” , as was said by the Hon. Member, that we stand to be dammed not only by current generations but by future generations.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]