“Lord, lighten our darkness” is the prayer of many a householder and business owner in New Providence these days. We have to worry about many things electrical. We fret about coming home after work, flicking that all-important light switch and hearing what sounds suspiciously like a snigger of contempt coming back at us, when we need to cook a meal for your family or do a load of laundry, including children’s school uniforms or our own.
Here are two nail-biting lightless scenarios. You are a student in the middle of completing that overdue term paper for forty percent of your term grade or a business owner/professional about to hit “send” on an e-mail submission of the RFP for a contract that you really need to win and your computer light goes down. Did the e-mail make it through or did it get jacked up in cyberspace?
Unplanned darkness can become the substance of nightmare—“Nightmare on Elm Street” nightmare in a variety of situations. For instance, someone is or becomes critically ill in your household and life could hang in the balance without electricity. Lights out—fervent petitions rise to heaven from all over the island. “Lord, lighten our darkness.”
Currently, “current” is at a premium in the nation’s capital (Yes, this is a pun). BPL stands for “Bahamas Lighted Poorly” in the minds of many of us. Few would dispute that the official title of the company is something of a misnomer—there is little real power and we have only a sweetheart relationship with light—on again, off again. “Bahamas” has become the only constant. So, how do we move to greater and more reliable illumination? This essay is suggesting an honest examination of what has caused electricity generation to go steadily downhill over the past few decades, its dynamos now on life support, instead of providing the dynamism needed to drive 21st century business and quality of life for the people of The Bahamas.
Assigning responsibility for this state of affairs has become a crazy board game like “Clue”, a whodunit mystery. So, who is responsible for the “power struggle”? You can be assured that it’s not Colonel Mustard in the library.
Well, let’s examine the clues pointing to that catch-all for blame in The Bahamas—The Government with a capital G. Bahamians are equal opportunity offenders in this case—the entire load of malfeasance gets on whichever political party is currently (That word again!) administering the affairs of our country. And, as Bahamians cultivate a strange brand of logic, the party we have just voted out of power for abject failure begins to take on that halo glow again in the midst of the continuing trouble. If there is dynamism in this country, it lies in the tendency to cling to party loyalty, even if the ship we are sailing on is heading for the rocks. Make no mistake, however, each successive administration must shoulder its megawatts of mistakes. There is no getting round the fact that each has pulled at least one plug or downed at least one generator.
The first mistake of each administrator in the BPL case is a lack of transparency or operating on dimmers or with Dr Dre headphones where no sound comes through, despite massive clamour from the outside to have certain obvious questions answered. Take the question of the French-sourced generator, which proved a remarkably bad choice. One major daily reported that it had got wind of some wacky-tobaccy story of someone in government trying to curry favour with the Spanish government to help us out from being a whipping boy for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that keeps giving The Bahamas financial services industry licks in the transparency area. The other story had to do with a purported $300,000 bribe exchanging hands to grease the transaction.
This writer is one who lives in perpetual darkness as concerns these high-level shenanigans, but it seems that only one man took the fall for this. How is the possible? First question—Shouldn’t every human system or at least key utilities have redundancies and backups in equipment as well as administrative provisions? Machinery is fallible as are we human beings. Why then was this counterproductive measure able to pass through those redundancies or didn’t they exist?
Currently (that scary word again!), the biggest BPL scandal is again generators and an even bigger question. How in the world could three or four fires break out at the power stations, damaging most particularly generators that were already challenged, yet no one saw anything? Come on now! These incidents give rise to a cascade of questions. Is BEC/BPL paying security to watch these vital assets? Who had access? Could just anyone of the street walk in with desire to have a weeny roast at the expense of our continuance as a developing country? Have aliens landed and caused spontaneous combustion? Government promised a thorough investigation. If it has started, one hopes that it began with the questions of access and chain of responsibility. One also hopes that the investigation yields published results and is not dependent on the length of the attention span of the man on the street.
Second area of darkness—Hit ‘em a kidney punch when they’re already on the mat, wallowing in agony from several other licks. Seventy percent hike in electricity costs to the consumer? I ask government—who will you govern when you knock the rest of us out with the tax burden?
Third area of darkness—Bahamian unions. No matter that you voted out one government for cutting a hole in the nation’s wallet. You pick the most vulnerable time in your country’s economic life to go Molly Mcguire and threatened shut us down, if government does not follow your plan. As one union utters a pulling-the-plug threat, another one gets the fever and starts wire-cutting. Ya gatta love the medical side—They tell us that they will strike, but “won’t let any patients die.” Well, how do you intend to do this? Isn’t this a contradiction. Let me say this to you and who everyone is suing government—It’s the rest of us, including you, who will pay the bill for your windfall, should you win. There are undoubtedly
Fourth area of darkness—the Bahamians who believe that life should be a fast, cool car on an endless highway—no traffic stops, no bumps in the road, but plenty of drinks and snacks in the cooler, which they haven’t paid for. Pay your bills. Consider this scenario: let’s say you take those trips to the United States for shopping, Disney World or medical attention; let’s say further that you decide that you won’t pay a penny on your tab and make noise about it. The next sound you will hear is likely to be a laugh track from the cash registers, followed by sirens and the rattling of handcuffs.
One of the darkest areas of Bahamian life is the expectation of manna from heaven or from the next politician with nery a lifting of a pinky finger from you. Electrical generation needs fuel for which we must help to pay. It isn’t run on promises. I write again and again that we claim and demand independence but behave like people in bondage to ignorance, partisan politics and downright “I don’t care about anything, as long as I got mine.” But, I must say again, government must stop pulling figures out of hat to impose upon the rest of us and understand that membership in the House of Assembly or having a relative, friend or lover there does not exempt you from paying the abominably high electrical bills, especially if you don’t know the last time you paid any serious attention to the people’s business.
It doesn’t work that way. Unless we all—every manjack of us—government, businesses, unions, civil servants and sundry workers, and the men and women on the street begin to pull our respective weights and pull together, there will be continued and deepening darkness in Bahamaland. Let there be light of transparency, fairmindedness, an abundance of work ethic and commitment to community. Yes, we have a duty to demand transparency, accountability clear-thinking and overall honesty of the men and women we elect to govern us. At the same time, though, we must demand it of ourselves. It’s the people’s time alright—all the people.