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Business leaders protest

PSOJ, JMA and JCC pull out of Energy Monitoring Committee

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 03, 2014    

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THE nation's business leaders yesterday pulled out of the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC), as they sent a strong signal to Government over its handling of arrangements for the building of a new power plant, of which Energy World International (EWI) is the preferred bidder.

Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Christopher Zacca, told reporters at a press conference at the organisation's Old Hope Road headquarters that representatives of the PSOJ, the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) decided to discontinue their support, saying the committee was not adequately serving the public's interest.

"Recent events have led us to question the ability of the EMC to function in a viable way as a valued partner of the Government and serve the public's interest rather than being a bystander in the process," Zacca told reporters.

There were previously eight members on the committee, but with a representative of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition pulling out, in solidarity with the business leaders, only half the committee members remain on board.

The business leaders stated their disgust with Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell's 'high-handed' amendment of the licence for the 360-megawatt plant, despite recommendations to the contrary by the Office of Utilities Regulations.

"In discussions with our representatives, they confirmed that no discussions were held with them regarding the changes to the original licence... and they have also confirmed that they have been seriously concerned about the changes to the new licence," Zacca said.

Zacca said the situation was further compounded after EWI was granted an indefinite extension to post a US$37-million bond after failing to do so within the required time frame, saying the original bond has expired, leaving the country without protection. The private sector groups also had concerns about the action taken by the Inter-American Development Bank not to provide funding for the project because of alleged flaws in the procurement process.

According to the business leaders, in order for Government to regain their support it must:

* Abort the current process and rescind the controversial licence to EWI;

* Disband the EMC and replace it with a public/private energy enterprise team which will be mandated to oversee and advise on the granting of a new licence and report directly to the Office of the Cabinet, through the Cabinet secretary; Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in consultation with the Partnership of Jamaica, they said, should select the members of the team, and mandate the team to immediately recommend the next steps in the process to the Cabinet as soon as possible.

He, however, signalled that the business community was prepared to preserve its partnership with the Portia Simpson Miller-led government.

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