Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | Clarity needed on Dr Wheatley’s task force

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 9:00 AM

This newspaper has a simple reason for robustly championing the use of private sector-influenced, but multi-stakeholder special purpose vehicles to help the Government formulate projects and provide oversight for policies: they work.

Take, for example, the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET), appointed by the previous administration and chaired by their go-to fixer, Vin Lawrence. For decades, Jamaica has been burdened with old, inefficient power plants that burn expensive oil, thus being a drag on the economy. Yet, administrations continuously miffed plans to establish new generating systems, either because bureaucrats couldn't agree on the fuel that should fire the new plants, or generally made a mess of the negotiating these projects. Corruption, it is widely believed, sometimes got in the way.

Two years ago when another government effort to choose the builder/operator of LNG power plant went awry, ESET was established to clean up the mess. It has since then spawned an agreement with the JPS, power transmission and distribution company, to build a 190-megawatt LNG-fired plant. It has also brokered deals with independent power generators for smaller projects.

The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), similarly, has been a success. Its monitoring of, and reporting on, Jamaica's agreement with the International Monetary Fund, have contributed in no small measure to holding the previous administration and, so far, this one, to their obligations under the programme. The country is better for the improved macroeconomic environment.

Inasmuch as we appreciate and promote the efficacy of these task forces, we do not believe that they should be created and tossed about like confetti, lest they lose their substance, relevance and effectiveness. Which is why we look to the to the energy and technology minister, Andrew Wheatley, for further and better particulars on his proposed utilities taskforce, whose members are yet to be named.

 

UNRELIABLE POWER OUTAGE

 

Dr Wheatley announced the idea in the wake of last week's islandwide power outage, followed by a breakdown, for several hours, of Internet services, to a large chunk of the customers of the telecoms provider Flow.

"This administration is focused on growth and job creation, but this cannot be achieved without a reliable power grid and a robust communications backbone," he said. We agree.

But a task force "to look into the root cause of these problems" doesn't, in the circumstances, appear to be the answer. Indeed, ESET has established a framework for a robust power-generating system and a national grid. Although, it could be, though unlikely, that Dr Wheatley is dissatisfied with ESET's agenda and is intent on shifting emphasis and/or focus.

Further, in the face of the ESET programme and the aggressive competition in the telecoms sector - though dominated by two major players - the matters raised by last week's outages are of a regulatory nature, rather than of policy. That suggests that they ought to be the remit of the Office of the Utilities Regulation (OUR), which was, by law, reconfigured to make it more sensitive to the imperatives of the market and to government policy signals.

Without its role being clearly defined, Dr Wheatley's task force could find itself in conflict, or overlapping with ESET and the OUR. Or, the task force could be start of the process, as was floated in the past, of taking the regulation of the telecoms sector from the OUR.