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No blackout for economy - Stakeholders react to Saturday night's island-wide blackout

Published:Wednesday | August 31, 2016 | 8:00 AMRomario Scott
Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service, speaks with Gail Abrahams, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) of Jamaica, during yesterday’s media launch of the AMCHAM Business and Civic Leadership Awards for Excellence 2016 at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

Even as the losses to some businesses are being tallied, economist Peter-John Gordon is predicting that, to the wider economy, Saturday night's blackout will have a negligible effect.

Gordon told The Gleaner yesterday that while he has no doubt that many businesses suffered and there were many personal and economic incon-veniences, the economy will not be impacted in any serious way.

According to the University of the West Indies lecturer, "Small businesses are important in that they absorb a lot of labour, but in terms of the value of their output, it is really small compared to the economy.

"If you added up the income of all the barbers or reflect on the output of all the barbers and the hairdressers in the country, it is relatively small, and their losses would not show up in the statistics at all," he said.

With Jamaica already bearing a fragile economy, he is, however, warning that with each major power outage, the country's attractiveness to possible investors diminishes.

"The more frequent these things occur, it means that you are in an environment that is not dependable. For a businessperson to invest millions of dollars in buying machinery, he wants to be fairly certain that he can use it when he wants to use it," Gordon argued.

"The more you have island-wide blackouts, what you are telling them is that the grid is not that reliable and they may have to factor how much more they would have to spend."

MAINTAINING CONFIDENCE

Collin Bullock, former director general of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, suggested that to recoup from any fallout in business and investor confidence, the Government and the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) should offer a credible explanation for the blackout and a plan outlining how further occurrences will be prevented.

"If they get an understanding of what happened, why it happened, and get what steps can be taken to moderate repetition, that would certainly help - for public understanding and for public confidence also," Bullock reasoned.

Since the start of the year, Jamaica has recorded two islandwide blackouts, the first of which was on April 17, affecting many businesses from different sectors of the economy. In addition, there have been a number of blackouts in city areas and busy towns.

But it would seem that the entertainment sector was hardest hit from last Saturday night's episode.

"It pretty much wiped out the night for them. Saturday is a prime party evening, so most of the events would have been significantly affected by the power cut. The people who were coming to the event did not bother to," Donovan Wignal, president of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Alliance, told The Gleaner.

Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, shared similar views.

"I haven't seen anybody investigate how many entertainment events had to be cancelled. When an event is being planned, it is done months in advance. Sound systems, DJs, flyers are printed and marketing would have been done. All of that would have gone Saturday night," Page said, while calling for an investigation to be done to assess "the loss per minute in such an event".

"This is month end, before the start of the school year. Saturday is bad; end of month Saturday is worse, but the end of month Saturday, before school resumes for many is just an absolute disaster," the businesswoman told The Gleaner.

Page is of the opinion that JPS customers should detail and quantify their losses and submit them to the light and power company.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com