The Opposition has latched on to the sceptic bandwagon questioning whether Azurest/Cambridge, the entity which emerged the preferred bidder for the supply of 360 megawatts of energy to the national grid, was actually first past the post.
Gregory Mair, the opposition spokesman on energy, said at a press conference last week that his information suggests that Azurest was only given the nod because of the release of a special report by Contractor General Dirk Harrison on the eve of the announcement by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) report blasted Energy Minister Paulwell for what it deemed improper facilitation of the Hong Kong-based Energy World International (EWI) group. Among other things, the OCG said Paulwell went the extra mile to ensure EWI had a winning chance.
But one would have thought it was merely a matter of academic interest, as the OUR, the day after the report, revealed Azurest as the preferred bidder.
If Mair has evidence of impropriety, he should not allow today's sitting of the House to be adjourned without bringing the matter to the attention of the Parliament.
The allegation is very serious, embedded in which is the claim of political interference at the OUR. It suggests the OUR was not ballsy enough to protect the integrity of the system from a meddling minister.
If what he is saying is true, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should not give Paulwell enough time to pack his boxes. He should be fired forthwith and the entire management team at the OUR booted as well.
But if Mair is merely flying a kite and his claims are baseless, he should be charged with creating public mischief.
We need not restate the obvious that addressing Jamaica's energy problem will go a far way in making Jamaica competitive for businesses.
The OUR must be free from political interference and investors confident of a fair and equitable business environment.
The contractor general has claimed that the intervention of Paulwell, by meeting with EWI representatives, was inappropriate and irregular, as a process was being undertaken and the evaluation was under way.
"Given the perceived notion of bias, the receipt of EWI's proposal should not have been entertained. More important, the meeting between the minister, GOJ officials, and EWI representatives should not have occurred and is highly irregular ... ," Harrison's report said.
Paulwell responded that the Government concluded its formal request for proposals in late 2012. He said that, early 2013, the OUR began an informal process of receiving "unsolicited proposals".
"During that period, I had courtesy calls from potential investors, including: Armorview/Tank-Weld; East West Power/Marubeni/JPS; Azurest/Cambridge; and Energy World International," Paulwell said.
He further noted that, by letter dated April 29, 2013, he directed EWI to the OUR. "The OUR ended the informal process on May 22, 2013 as indicated in its letter dated May 20, 2013 to the Cabinet secretary. I did not meet with any potential investor after that date."
In dismissing Harrison's claim of bias, Paulwell notes that the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), on April 21, 2013, received a letter from EWI indicating its interest.
According to Paulwell, EWI proposed to use gas from its own gas fields in Indonesia and made an offer price of 12.5 cents per kWh.
"Knowing that the OUR's deadline for submissions was March 15, I took the matter to Cabinet - the Government's highest decision-making body - for its consideration. It was the Cabinet, by way of Decision No. 16/13, that directed the Office of Utilities Regulation to evaluate, along with the three entities shortlisted, the unsolicited proposal received from Energy World International," Paulwell said.
If Paulwell is speaking the truth here, it suggests that Harrison is way out of his league and that matters of procurement are too complex for him to understand.
Regardless of the verifiability of Mair's claims, the OUR has a duty to disclose to Jamaica the scoresheets on how it arrived at the Azurest decision.
We note, for example, that the Azurest bid indicates they can deliver power to the grid at US$0.1390 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is way higher than the US$0.1250 cents per kilowatt-hour that Paulwell said EWI has proposed. The OUR has a duty to outline whether EWI did, in fact, bid to provide power at a lower cost than Azurest. Could it be, as Mair's information suggests, that Azurest has been given preferred bidder's status, but the OUR knows that group can't perform and soon it will be turned over to EWI?
The Gavel is not stupid enough to believe the OUR would gamble its own integrity.
Jamaicans pay approximately US$0.42 cents per kilowatt-hour on electricity, and Paulwell said that until we get to between US$0.15 and US$0.18 cents, Jamaica has no future.
This week in Parliament should be a defining moment on that journey to survival.
Over to you, Gregory Mair.
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