Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's office yesterday played down suggestions that there is a disconnect within her administration, caused by conflicting positions on the way forward in the distribution of electricity to Jamaicans.
Dr Carlton Davis, special adviser to Simpson Miller who heads the liquefied natural gas (LNG) Steering Committee, said during a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Tuesday that the Government had not taken the position that the monopoly enjoyed by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) should be broken up.
Davis' assertion that he believed a properly regulated monopoly was the best option for the nation was in stark contrast with recent pronouncements by Energy Minister Phillips Paulwell, who has expressed a desire to see a collapse of JPS's monopoly.
Late yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) sought to shed light on the issue.
"There is no real conflict or dispute within the Government in dealing with the challenges of continuity, increased efficiency and cost containment within the energy sector," the OPM declared.
Simpson Miller's office promised that the "responsible minister" would shortly be making a statement on the on-going discussions with JPS.
Davis's comments at the forum had energised Opposition Spokesman for Industry, Commerce and Energy, Gregory Mair, who charged that the recent development portrayed confusion in governance on energy matters.
Mair said "the impasse" was occurring even as the Government was completing the LNG tender process, generating fresh concerns after a Supreme Court ruling against the validity of the JPS' monopoly licence.
Mair called for Simpson Miller to, among other things, state whether legislation to address the validity of the JPS licence would be brought forward following the recent court ruling that the JPS monopoly was illegal and, if not, what her Government would do.
Committed to competition
Yesterday, the OPM said: "Note has been taken of the concerns raised in media reports on the matter of competition within the energy sector, and specifically relating to the generation and transmission of electricity."
The OPM asserted that the Government was committed to competition within the energy sector and all other sectors in which competition serves the national interest.
"The interest of the media in the subject reflects the concerns of the country in general about the cost of electricity and its effects on both private consumption and the cost of production in the industrial sector," the OPM said, noting that though the latest developments in the Supreme Court have cleared the way for a new dispensation, the Government would not be jumping recklessly into a new arrangement.
"Charting a development path within the sector is a complex exercise," the OPM statement said, while pointing out that two issues must be borne in mind in relation to the current situation.
For one, the statement noted that a point of view of an adviser does not necessarily reflect a settled position of the Government.
Secondly, the OPM said it must be appreciated that the holders of the present licence - the JPS; its directors and financiers are inevitably affected by uncertainty about any near-term change of that licence, as it has been obtained on the basis of both generation and transmission of electricity.
"In looking ahead, therefore, at the prospects for investment in alternative sources of energy, the Government, on behalf of the people, has to examine all options," said the OPM. "In the short run, it must ensure continuity of service while it seeks to give the country the best chance of finding cheaper sources of energy and more affordable electricity for all consumers and for the productive sector."