HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No.15/2013
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Early on, this afternoon, there were some, I believe, schoolchildren in the gallery and I am so happy that they have left because if they were to listen to the presentation made by my friend, the Hon. Minister, they would want to know whether they were in a history class - it was about Egypt, the Aswan Dam, the United States of America - or whether they were talking here about Hydro-Electric (Amendment) Bill. They would have wanted to understand what it is. This is a problem we have in this country, when we have Ministers who cannot understand what the issue is. That is why we have problems such as this. If the Minister cannot understand that in the National Assembly, tonight, the debate that we are having is about this document here and the document is the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013, Bill No. 15/ 2013. This is what we are talking about, please. We are not talking here about the Amaila Falls or the benefits of the Amaila Falls or anything else about the Amaila Falls. We are talking about this. Let us look at what is here in this piece of the document. Let us look at it. I will adjust a few issues that were raised by learned friend after I would have dealt with the document that is before us.
First of all, this document here sets up an offset area this is meant to compensate for the reservoir for the Amalia Falls Hydropower Project. What we are looking at here is setting off a certain area of this country called Guyana that would be preserved so as to preserve the environment around the hydroelectric area. In this document, itself, when we look at it, at clause 7 of the amendment it states here that the Principal Act, at section 26, is amended as follows, and it has here (a), (b), (c), then there are subsections (c) (3), 2(a) (b). I want to go to subsection (c) (3), 2(a) (b). It states here that these are certain acts which are prohibited within this hydroelectric offset reserve. It prohibits mining, mineral locating, logging, farming and agricultural activities of any kind, that’s the first thing.
Secondly, it prohibits hunting, destroying, disturbing, or mere procession of any plant or animal or products except by indigenous people for traditional use.
I would like to address this particular clause in this amendment, because what we are saying is that we are condemning our indigenous people to a certain quality of life forever. This is what it is doing here. It is condemning, because what we are saying here is that this is an area that is reserved; it is protected and we cannot do anything of these things in there. These are all prohibited things that cannot be done there, but there is an exception for indigenous people to do certain things for traditional uses. What does it mean here? What is meant here by this? Did the people who drafted this Bill go and do a consultation with the people in the community? Did they find out whether this expression “the traditional use” as is used in this Act, in this amendment, traditionally, what does it mean? This is English language and I am taking the literal meaning of what is here. I do not have to go any other canons of legislative construction. The literal meaning here states that, “Indigenous people for traditional use” and I am saying that the Bill has not addressed that in a proper manner.
Secondly, the Bill speaks about a board of directors of the authority that would be addressing the question about the reserve. When it is looked at, in the first Schedule of the amendment, it speaks about a board but it does not say what the composition of that board is; it does not say what the qualifications of the persons who sit on that board are. All it states is that the Minister or the President appoints, and that a quorum is five, but it does not speak to those specific issues about the board, that would be responsible for this authority.
These are important issues in this piece of legislation that we are seeking comment to amend. I do not have to go to Egypt, China or anywhere else to recognise that these are serious flaws in the legislation that is before us tonight.
As I said, I did not promise to speak too long but there are some matters which the Hon. Minister Benn has addressed and they have to do with what I perceive to be an attempt to pressurise or to blackmail us over here in to agreeing to something that is not before us. We are being asked to agree on the Amalia Falls Hydropower Project and it is not before us. We have said all along that we are being pressurised and that there are unreasonable deadlines that are being set, not only by site but by what we are being told that is a requirement of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
We were told that these amendments, along with the debt ceiling amendment, which has to come later on, are requirements of the IDB and this is necessary for us to get to the IDB’s board meeting in October. That was one pressure that was put on us.
The next pressure now is that Sithe Global came here and said publicly, “Look, if you cannot agree to this thing we are going to walk”. The Amalia developers will pull out if there is no national consensus. These deadlines… this was, I believe, was sometime when Sithe Global was here on. It was on the 18th of July. I have a letter from Sithe Global dated the 13th of January 2012. Now, this is July 2013 where it was saying that if there would be no national consensus it was going to pull out. January 13, 2013 the last paragraph of a letter addressed to Mr. David Granger, A Partnership for National Unity, by Bruce Wrobel, CEO of Sithe Global, states this (In fact they were asking to meet Mr. Granger):
“However, the project is at a critical juncture and requires broad support in order to push the financing across the finish line. Furthermore, many cost factors outside the control of the project, including commodity prices, exchange rates and interest rates will put forward upward pressure on the project cost if the project is delayed.”
Time is of the essence. This is what it was saying to us in January of 2012, that this financing was just about to be pushed across the line and it was asking us to try to push it.
Now, in July of 2013, one year and months afterwards, it is saying, “Well, if we do not have consensus on this matter we are going to pull out and we are going to sink $16 million which we have invested in the project.” We are a National Assembly; we are sovereign nation. I cannot stand why a private company can feel that it can establish these deadlines for us so that we have to come out in support of a project that is not even before the National Assembly. What is before us has to do with an offset area. That is what we are considering tonight. I do not see anything else for us to consider. Whether it is Sithe Global, it is Blackstone, or whoever, IDB, whatever, it is, we are dealing with this issue here tonight. At the appropriate time when the Government chooses to bring before the National Assembly all the necessary documents that are required for a full debate on this project, I believe, at that point in time we will be able to say yes or no. Right now, as this issue stands, I do not believe that the APNU can support this amendment to the Act.
Thank you. [Applause]