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Stop kicking can down the road, Byles cautions Gov't - EPOC co-chair says bungling on power plant project weakening investor confidence

Published:Wednesday | June 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Richard Byles

McPherse Thompson, Assistant Business Editor

Co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles, has warned the Government that it might now be unable to attract bids from companies with the ability and track record to construct its prized power plant because of its penchant for revoking tenders it has accepted.

"It's seven years, about, that we have been bungling this in one way or another," he said of the proposed construction of a 381-megawatt gas-fired power plant, a licence for which was awarded to Hong Kong-based Energy World International (EWI), but which the Government has signalled it intends to revoke after the company failed to make the requisite performance bond.

EWI was named as the next preferred bidder after first-ranked American-based Azurest-Cambridge failed to meet the deadline to pay its bond.

Byles said that when international players, people who build power plants, see that the country repeatedly "goes to tender and pulls it back, they say, 'Hello, we are not interested in Jamaica,' because it costs them time, money, resources to make this tender".

Noting that "it's a very sophisticated process to go through a tender for a plant of that size", Byles said, "They are saying, 'This country doesn't look like it's serious. Year after year after year it says it wants tenders. It then withdraws from the process, leaving everybody with nothing, so I'm not bidding next time', and that is what we have reaped finally."

Byles, addressing a media briefing yesterday at Sagicor Life Jamaica in New Kingston, where he released the 13th communiqué of the non-private sector members of the EPOC, said, "Nobody of real substance and ability and track record has stepped up and said, 'I am going to take my chances with Jamaica that this RFP (request for proposal) will go through and that I have a good, fair transparent shot.'

"So we are reaping seven years of if, but, kick can down the road," added Byles, who is also president and chief executive officer of Sagicor Group Jamaica.

He said he was disappointed that as a country, Jamaica seemed to be stumbling on a reason why this project could not proceed, even though it was the single most important project for the country's economic development.

TIME TO GET CRACKING

On Monday, the opposition Jamaica Labour Party said it would be withholding its support for an electricity sector enterprise panel the Government has now appointed to oversee construction of the power plant, saying that the Office of Utilities Regulation should instead be used to drive the process.

Byles said he did not fully appreciate what was the concern of the Opposition, but for him "the most important thing is, let's get on with this project."

He said the private sector had two persons on the enterprise panel who were of impeccable integrity: Joseph M. Matalon and William Mahfood.

"I don't think they would have accepted that position unless they themselves were confident that they could operate in an atmosphere of transparency and have a beneficial effect on the project," Byles said.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com