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PCJ, Petrojam and the fierce urgency

Published:Sunday | December 27, 2015 | 10:55 AM


"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action,"

-Martin Luther King Jr

The tag line for Petrojam is 'Serving Jamaica's Energy Needs'. The Petroleum Corporation, which is the parent of Petrojam, states that its mandate is to "manage the country's energy needs in a manner that supports the overall strategy for national development".

The enormity and complexity of these goals cannot be overemphasised as the economic success of any developed or developing country is tied to its energy policy. In 2010, President Bill Clinton noted that the Caribbean has the highest cost for electricity in the world, with Jamaicans paying three times more for the service than persons in the United States. He urged a diversified energy policy which will help the Caribbean to become more competitive.

In 2015, President Barack Obama suggested that people in the Caribbean, despite having less resources, are paying significantly higher prices for energy. If we can lower those costs through the development of clean energy and increased energy efficiency, we could release a whole host of additional investment and growth.

The time is now. Interestingly enough, it was Barack Obama who quoted Dr Martin Luther King Jr on his way to the presidency, when in 2007, the then senator said: "I am not in this race to fulfil some long-held ambitions or because I believe it's somehow owed to me. I never expected to be here. I always knew this journey was improbable. I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called 'the fierce urgency of now.' Because I believe that there's such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us."

Timing is important

It was the great Yogi Berra who said, "You don't have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it'll go." I used this sports quote as Jamaica consistently punches way above its weight in the sporting world. We need the same type of approach on energy.

It's now time to revisit our country's approach to the energy sector. Jamaica's energy sector needs a chief executive officer, someone who can head a department of energy with two or three senior advisers. This department should be a cross between a Jamaica Bauxite Institute and an Energy Sector Enterprise Team. Maybe the Government should have one of the multilateral agencies help in this transformation.

I am heartened by the fact that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) seem to be getting more motivated. We have seen (so far) what has happened at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) with a new a private sector-grown chairman. I expect even greater things in the future. Yes, there still will be challenges, but the NSWMA is on the right trajectory.

As it stands right now, the only people who seem to understand the pricing mechanism of Petrojam are the pricing people at Petrojam. If this benefited the people of Jamaica, that would be fine. However, with gasolene prices at the pump in the United States averaging US$2 per gallon or approximately J$64 per litre, we still don't have a good explanation as to why Jamaicans are paying over J$100 per litre.

So the recent statements by the JCC and PSOJ, coupled with the challenge earlier this year by the PCJ chairman for the private sector to get more involved with the petroleum trade, I suggest that instead of trying to invest in the outdated refinery, the private sector should look at the possibility of leasing a floating oil refinery and jump on the opportunity now being presented by the United States lifting its own 40-year-old export ban.

Now is the time because I believe that there's such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us.

Jef Minot