Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell has defended the Government's decision to turn over the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) even as more questions are being asked about it.
Since last week, reports have surfaced that at least two major players involved in the Government's initial plan to introduce LNG have urged the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) to probe the decision to turn over the project to the JPS.
While not confirming this report, Paulwell yesterday told The Sunday Gleaner that he was not worried about any investigation because the Government has done nothing wrong.
"I'm quite happy to disclose to the country that I was very proactive because the greatest problem we face now as a country is this matter of energy.
"As a minister, I was not willing to sit by and wait on a process that I had my doubts about from the outset and allow it to run its course without a backup plan.
"Everything I did was in keeping with (being) a proactive minister and a Government that is trying to find solutions," added Paulwell.
Sources in the energy sector have reported that the OCG has been asked to see if Paulwell breached the rules and short-circuited the process by approaching the JPS in March, even while the LNG Steering Committee was still trying to pull together the project.
While admitting that he approached the JPS early, Paulwell argued that it was all about being proactive.
"I had to seek the assurance of the JPS during the process, just to ensure that if we fail, they would be able to take it up … and I make no apology."
According to Paulwell, the Government had no business in the LNG project, worse at this time, when the price of the gas would make it unattractive to the bauxite companies and the JPS.
He argued that if the Government had moved in 2010 when the infrastructure bid was won by the Exmar Consortium, it would have been better for Jamaica as the price of LNG then was acceptable.
"We fundamentally disagree that the Government should be procuring the fuel unless there was a government-to-government agreement with a friendly State."
The energy minister said he approached the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Angola in an effort to secure the gas but was unsuccessful.
Paulwell argued that the LNG Steering Committee gave him a report which showed that with the cost of the infrastructure and the gas there was no way it could be sold at a price that would interest the bauxite companies and the JPS.
"The committee advised me quite appropriately that this project was not possible and that we should allow the companies that have a generating licence … to find their own fuel," said Paulwell.
"This is the best thing for the country as we push to drive down the cost of energy."