Columns

Old politics and electricity will destroy us

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, May 23, 2014    

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I know we are not all thieves, but sometimes it feels as if we are. All politicians are not corrupt, but sometimes it seems like that. Business may be rapacious, but politicians made Jamaica Public Service (JPS) CEO Kelly Tomblin an unintended heroine against the cowardly, thieving and venal.

The JPS won the moral argument. It hurt us in the foreign press -- electricity scam covered by political smoke; lottery scam, what next? It seems MPs allow the JPS latitude until it touches their voter base, and though the verities require a business solution, it is politics that triumphs; the firm takes the heat, squirms, swims or sinks. I hold no brief for the JPS, but I depend on them for light and power in my ruinate country, so I have to fight electricity thieves.

The racism, classism, intimidation was designed to get Tomblin to ignore an illegal, unfair and corrupt practice and the state was unhelpful. I could puke! We need he to make our JPS successful. The catch 22 is, if it does not meet targets, Cabinet may boot it; yet it needs their help to collect its cash. Stealing electricity is not a JPS issue, it is Cabinet's. We did not elect JPS to keep order. Would you bid on the 381MW project with 200,000 electricity thieves in plain sight? The Cabinet and constabulary vow to arrest farm thieves who they don't know, but will not arrest electricity thieves whose name and address they have. Over decades they presided over a breakdown in homes, schools, roads and society. If your dad steals light at home can you respect him? What values can school teach you? There are good politicians, but in the murky political space who tells constituents to obey the law? A thing is not done until it is done right.

The JPS issue is emblematic of decades of pork politics. Poor people want to work and live honestly, but being poor a long time they learned to "tun han an mek fashon", and now "tun brain to mek lotto scam". Life is joined up and the monster you create for one thing ravages another; teach people business is rapacious and now small business and farm get tief. This is what we do. The criminals say it's okay to steal from JPS and uptown and MPs hide behind Mrs Tomblin's skirt. The JPS breached its franchise by staging power cuts to get at electricity thieves and politicians called them out before the regulator. I wish MPs were as proactive on behalf of honest citizens. Is the JPS to be the Ministry of Electricity Relief? Politics subverts law and order, so your firm fails just so they can keep criminal voters from switching to the other party. "Damn you, JLP, these are my criminals!"

The big issue is our energy future. For a generation we tried to stabilise electricity; for a decade to procure a 360/381MW solution, all marred by politics. Elements of freeness, indiscipline, violence, intimidation, and entitlement is endemic in many of our people -- the magnum opus of our politics. We tried to use politics to solve our energy woes. It failed. Let's now try a business solution.

Energy is a priority unless you wish to live in the Stone Age. The hype around domestic electricity is massive, but our big oil burner and polluter is transport, and we can fix it in an energy mix of solar, oil and nuclear sources. Solar needs an injection of some $5b a year to 2019 to have impact. Entice a Chinese and a German integrator to manufacture panels and controls respectively in the logistics hub and CMI, HEART/NTA and UTech can train technicians, then we export both to the Americas. We must put a percentage solar for retrofit and new building law so that, by 2025, we optimise solar as JPS still needs domestic customers to be viable. By 2030 we could be the place of choice for solar innovation.

Nuclear energy is our ticket. Our families live in the USA and UK and never utter one complaint about their nuclear plants; why should we? Be confident and ambitious, use nuclear energy like northern states and prosper. Two innovations in public transportation may change the face of electricity demand, generation, pollution, and death rates in this second half-century if Cabinet will innovate.

Electricity should power cross-island railways to carry passengers, freight. It will displace billions of dollars of oil; banish road congestion, environment damage; road rage, deaths, trauma in A&E, and save the health service billions. MPs may think votes; so if the PNP support Crossrail, the JLP will side with the truck lobby and vice versa. They need to work as one. The truck lobby will invest in electric or LPG tractor heads, wet and dry trailers to deliver bulk freight in a "twig and branch" model from rail nodes at MoBay, Ochi, etc, to customers. Imagine air-conditioned rail coaches, freight rail-cars for 40ft boxes, reefers; tanker cars for liquids (food, chemicals), powder (flour, cement), granular (sand, corn, gravel), cattle, fresh produce, dry goods...business evolves. The lobby will lease rolling stock to Rail Co which owns the tracks, stations and locomotives in a win-win PPP. This can be revolution! We must believe.

Electricity will also power our city rail. Light rail mass transit, whether surface or underground, will serve the KMTR and Greater MoBay; and by 2040 Sav, Ocho Rios, May Pen, Port Antonio, airports, cruise and cargo ports. By 2030, JUTC may run mass transit and few shuttle buses for millions. T he private car will own the streets, but fewer as rail is convenient. The minibus crews will operate round-town delivery vans, taxis, citi-trucks under 15 tonnes, courier services. Citirail and Crossrail will create thousands of jobs: train operators, engineers, mechanics, clerks, planners, conductors, revenue officers, logisticians, schedulers, technicians, sanitisers -- the workforce and SMEs for the new TVET/STEM graduates.

Over the last 50 years PNP and JLP have stymied progress by attempts to suborn jobs and economic opportunity to party politics. Changes in education will create new skills and competencies which need Cabinet to begin to craft the new Jamaica for them. The planning team should be mainly under 40...the future is theirs. We need mega projects to shift the paradigm and nuclear linked with transport can do it or us. Development is not a race to the bottom. Embrace innovation, help firms to grow, tax them and allow them to exercise corporate social responsibility. Move involuntary social welfare from the back of the JPS and private firms and use taxes in the PATH model to help the poor until a new genre of jobs arrive. The JPS issue tells us we need sense, experience and innovative youth in politics if we are to be the place of choice for business or just for living. We can do it. Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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