Concerns Continue to Mount Over Unreliable Electricity Supply in St. Kitts

With government trying to respond to the challenges and charges of incompetence from mainly political parties, but also some citizens, new Ministers have been assigned the responsibility to lead efforts to resolve the issues, but to no avail. Consumers have witness the shifting of Ministerial appointments from Halva Hendrickson, Cedric Liburd, Dr. Denzil Douglas and Dr. Asim Martin. There have been at least four (4) Ministers in 7 years.

Tens of millions have been spent on new generators, some on rental and others purchased, while at the same time new engineers and managers have been contracted; but the almost decade-old problem of poor service from the utility service, appears to have no end in sight.

At the same time that the service is getting more and more unreliable and causing greater losses for consumers, over the past seven years, consumers have seen their electricity bills skyrocketing, some say to over 100% in increases.Shawn_Richards_small

The last effort of the government has seen the dismantling of the Electricity Department, which from 1st August, 2011, has been transformed into a statutory corporation, (owned by government), but operated by a hired management entity. The new company is called the St. Kitts Electricity Company, or SKELEC.

Still, despite all these changes, residents in every part of St. Kitts continue to suffer from regular power outages; in some instances for hours and in others for a day or two. Citizens are also no wiser about the real cause and have very little information about when their ordeal would end.

Now the issue is again being taken up by opposition politicians; the latest being one of the Deputy Political Leaders of the People’s Action Movement, PAM, Mr. Shawn Richards, who is the Member of Parliament for the western town of Sandy Point. This is one of the areas said to be a regular ‘victim’.

Richards, in a recent media statement by his party, has expressed outrage in the continued power outages that the country has been experiencing, despite a change in management and the corporatization of the power utility.

The following is the full text of a statement issued by Richards regarding the issue of the country’s power utility services.

The new government corporatized electricity authority SKELEC has failed to address the almost daily power outages across the island, while we did not really expect the problem to disappear overnight; we were promised by the Douglas Government that things would improve. They have not. Despite the unconscionable increase in the price of electricity we continue to suffer in cold and darkness waiting for our lights to come on. Almost every day since August 1st we have had numerous outages. Management of the new corporatized entity must have surely been aware of the ongoing problems and concerns of the consumers. If nothing else, they are expected to know that public relations will be essential to at least give consumers that assurance that better and more efficient service is envisaged and will be delivered. Yet, after almost a whole month of operations the service is frequently interrupted and not a word of explanation or apology to the public. This is totally unacceptable.

Ambrose Bierce famously said that ‘a corporation is an ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility’ and it is nowhere more obvious than here. Now we continue to be plagued with power outages, but have added the same old casual or insouciant attitude of a government owned corporation which does not apologize, does not explain, nor take any kind of responsibility for the effects of these outages. At least before, there used to be some attempt at an explanation, however flimsy or unacceptable it may have been. Nowadays we do not even receive the courtesy of a public statement. However, the new company is owned by the government and someone must be responsible.

Over the last five years our government has boasted that it has invested over $100 million dollars in the generation of electricity. A surcharge has also been added to bills making the service even more expensive and unaffordable. However, consumers are still anxiously waiting to see a service that reflects this level of investment and high cost. The service still remains even more unreliable.

The negative impact is indeed a major concern for both businesses and households. Businesses suffer as productivity is reduced through loss of man hours when the electricity is out. In an increasingly complex global environment we cannot afford to have such frequent interruption of an essential service. Now almost every business is forced to buy a generator which adds to the cost of doing business in St. Kitts and makes us less competitive.  A number of businesses have been so severely impacted that they have now began opening their windows or installed windows and turned off their air condition units. While this has been done to remain operational of course staff is complaining of the discomfort but it is the harsh reality of doing business and remaining operational here in St. Kitts.

Meanwhile, households fare the worse. Many of our citizens cannot afford to buy generators. They must manage as best they can with only a few hours of electricity each day. They must cope with having to buy new appliances as the power surges which accompany blackouts destroy their fridges, televisions, computers and stoves and microwave ovens. They must somehow deal with their food spoiling, or resolve to buy food every day because they cannot keep any in their fridge.

A business that is paid to provide a service should provide the service, or tell people why it cannot be provided. It is high time that we introduce some reliability standards for electricity customers in St. Kitts. When you pay for an expensive service there should be a guarantee of an at least adequate standard of service. These power outages are unacceptable, and the company should take responsibility for the hardship it is causing to the average Kittitian.

The Minister of Public Utilities must awake from his slumber of inaction and insensitivity and hold to account the new Electricity Corporation which is wholly and solely owned by the Douglas Administration. It will be a gross disrespect to the public if this sad and hurtful state of affairs were to continue longer. We believe and we demand on behalf of the consumers a better quality service and much more respect to the public.

 

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