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History will absolve Phillip Paulwell

MARK WIGNALL

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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The herd mentality always follows the path of an exponential curve, beginning slowly then suddenly begins its explosive growth as the moo of the herd shuts down all reasoning and the droppings pollute any attempt at sensible debate.

Last weekend, powerful 'fraternal masters' among the People's National Party (PNP) elite descended on the PNP Cabinet and the prime minister, and the result was the excision of the further inclusion of Energy World International (EWI) in its push to secure the bid it had won to build out a 381 Megawatt LNG-powered electricity generating plant.

Its bid of 12.888 cents per kWh contrasted sharply with those whose bid would have stuck the country with higher light bills. It has now come to light that the next two bidders in line have significantly lowered their offers from as high as 21 cents to 14 cents and 14.5 cents respectively.

The question is, where were these lower bids before? An energy insider gave me a hint.

"There is the possibility the EWI never had any intention of building anything. Just of securing the licence and then reselling it on the world market to someone who could actually deliver," he said.

I thought about that possibility and asked, "But would that not be in the same league as we selling JPS to Mirant and, in essence, giving a troubled company a bailout. If EWI sells the licence, how could the rates it had quoted hold?"

"The Mirant situation was a predatory one and the company took us all for the fools we were. If EWI sold its licence it would be common business practice or ruthless business tactics."

I asked, "How would that redound to Jamaica in the form of cheaper rates for electricity? With JPS and the other bidder lowering their rates suddenly, could EWI have locked in their cheap rates by hedging?"

"You have a point there," he said. "One particular bidder who is now likely to get the deal wanted to lock in the high prices of last year because they knew that with the expansion of shale oil the prices would come tumbling down. The country would have been stuck with higher rates than what EWI was offering.

"EWI sold their plan on the basis that they would take the blow of high prices on the front end to get Jamaica low prices 10 years down the line, at which point they would make a windfall. Think about it. A 20-year contract at 0.1288. If the prices for years one to five are close to 0.20 but then they tumble to 0.05 over the next 15 years but we are still paying 0.1288 they make mad mad money! Our rates come down, they make money, technically everyone wins. They win more than we do, but we have more at stake."

It is appearing to me that Phillip Paulwell and his technocrats must have crunched those numbers to know what would be at stake. For him to have convinced politicians across the aisle like the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Karl Samuda and Audley Shaw must have meant, in our normally politically tribal and divisive environment, that key persons in the JLP saw the sense in the EWI position.

The position of Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is understandable because he cannot, under any circumstances, make it appear that he is siding with the PNP on any issue, even if he has to break ranks with the very spokesperson he appointed in the JLP to shadow the energy ministry. How can this be so?

Is Mr Holness off on an adventure purely of his own volition? Has he said openly that he disagrees with the position taken by his spokesperson on energy, Karl Samuda? No, he has not, only that he disagrees with Phillip Paulwell with whom Mr Samuda agrees.

Mr Holness is indeed a most confused man.

Minister Paulwell has the last word on delivering cheaper energy to the people of this country. After the prime minister met with a certain 'powerhouse' in the PNP, who is not now elected by anyone, she has turned over the new energy plant build-out to an 'enterprise team' that has no other choice but to act on the template set by Minister Paulwell.

With this enterprise team in place, a little bit more of the PNP has been taken away from the prime minister, and from where I sit it appears that JPS will be getting the contract to build the new generating plant.

Based on what the country knows, either because of unintended consequences of the failed EWI bid or because Minister Paulwell and his technocrats had done their homework, it will be a hard sell for the new player to adopt any other rate apart from EWI's 0.1288.

Major brain drain hitting Jamaica

According to the American Ivy league-educated Jamaican, he was embarrassed to have found himself at age 40 being interviewed by a 24-year-old Trinidadian for a job in the Republic.

"Mark, I was interviewed by a boy. In Jamaica it would have been the other way around. It would have been someone in their 50s or 60s with no new ideas, just holding a job and shutting out new talent," he said.

"So, where are you headed now?" I asked. I quickly followed up with two more before he had a chance to answer. "Where are your colleagues headed and what are the younger ones doing?"

"We are headed out of Jamaica. The region, Western Europe, Canada, the Middle East, Africa." According to him, "The country is being so badly mismanaged, there is a massive movement of talent from the civil service and a similar massive exodus of tertiary-educated people from the private sector. I am not talking about the degree mill at Mona. I am talking about bright people with workable ideas — ideas that cannot find funding or support. Talent between the ages of 25 and 40."

One young woman told me, "This Government is intent on promoting and pushing the jackasses. I don't even know that with a change in political administration anything will change."

An engineer who was recently in the government service with qualifications from MIT was deathly scared to talk to me. Eventually he opened up. "One ministry, a key ministry, has lost six PhDs in the last six months. Petrojam has lost its entire engineering cohort. Talent in the finance ministry is flying away."

This is most troubling. All one has to do is look at the private sector leaders. All in their late 50s, 60s and way over.

After news came that Dr Vin Lawrence was being recycled as head of the enterprise team to lead in the build-out of the new gas-fired power generating plant, a young woman, 27 years old, educated at Cornell with an MSc and on the way out of Jamaica, said of him, "You know they have nicknamed him 'god' because of the awesome power he wielded in the PNP between 1989 and 2006. That man is way up in age. Where is the god of our age group? Who is speaking for us? If we stick out our necks, the old guys cut us down, blacklist us. This country is hopeless, and I have tried with it for five years. I have had enough and I am leaving."

Sexual predation on Grade seven girls

One educator who has been blacklisted told me that when he took over the running of a primary school he was shocked to find out that some of the male teachers had been targeting the girls who were preparing to take GSAT.

"Targeting. What do you really mean by that?" I asked.

"Don't be deliberately naïve, Mr Wignall. Sexually!" he responded.

That teacher gave me a link to a principal running a high school and he told me that there is some evidence that the male teachers even follow up the relationship with the girls when they are in high school. "In my own school, from day one some of the older female teachers warned me to look out for the males and the girls they target from grade seven."

"Why can you not do anything about it?" I asked somewhat angrily.

"The teachers have their friends on the school boards and they cannot be touched, or soon you'll be out of a job," he said. "The board does not want to rock the boat, especially in these non-brand name schools."

"What about the ministry?" I asked.

He laughed. "I know of an instance with another headmaster who is now blacklisted and cannot find a job in teaching. A most competent man. He came to the school as principal, saw the nastiness, went to the board and nothing was done. Then he sent a bag of e-mails to the ministry. Nothing. Then somehow the story broke and the media got hold of it. The ministry incredulously pretended ignorance, made a lot of noise and in the end, the very man who complained and started the ball rolling was made out to be the villain. This country is in a very sick place, Mr Wignall."

"So what are your long-term plans?" I asked.

"I have no long-term plans that involve Jamaica. If I do that I will go mad. November will not catch me in Jamaica. I have a job offer in Canada and I am leaving for where people with sense can appreciate my unique skills."

Vision 2030 is on the way to being a nightmare!

observemark@gmail.com

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