Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No.15/20132995 07 Aug, 2013
HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No.15/2013
Mr. Nagamootoo: I am reminded of a story of a law professor from the University of Guyana travelling in a mini-van where the noise was turned up so loudly that all that was heard was, “I love you, I need you.” Upon the arrival at the bus park, the goodly professor came out, looked up in the air and said, “Where am I?” He was totally disoriented.
When I listened to the Hon. Prime Minister, full of love for something called “Amaila,” “I need you and I love you,” totally disoriented, did not know what he was speaking to. This is a part of the problem that we have here in the House. It is not helpful. We saw in the newspapers the attempted of spelling the word “Amaila” in all the manner of ways. Eventually they got it right and a lot of questions have been asked since they got the spelling right. At least, the question has been to get the arithmetic right, and that is the problem, but we have been presented with the Bill, the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013. I did not expect the arithmetic would be discussed in this Bill, but it did dominate the discussion. As I sat listening to the contributions I really was struck at how obsessed power has become that the arrogance flowed freely, perhaps, even more than the capacity of Amaila to produce the energy we are talking about. I wanted to know why? I started to question myself whether this Government really wants this project or it is decided to sacrifice patriotism on the altar of propaganda, because the abused of calling us, here, criminals, of saying that if we did not support we would have committed the guilty of criminal negligence.
Mr. Benn: I think in my presentation I was clear in saying that the Parliament, if it was unable to come to position on this matter that, would be akin to criminal negligence. That is simply what I said.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you Hon. Minister.
Mr. Benn: I did not call anyone criminal. The Hon. Member Nagamootoo is suggesting that I called people criminals.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo, I did listen very carefully. He said the Parliament and he did not single out any side of the House.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I am a Member of the Parliament...
Mr. Speaker: So am I.
Mr. Nagamootoo: …and so are you and if I did not support this Bill then I am made to believe that I would be guilty of criminal negligence. It is a criminal offence. There is no other way to explain the branding that we had. This is in keeping with a trend. We have committed an act of terrorism against development; we have committed crimes against development. This is levelled at our Parliament, Members of this House. I say, again, and I wonder why. Is to show the Guyanese people that there are patriots over and they are scoundrels on this side.
We are already told and reminded tonight that this thing is dead, meaning the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. The Hon. Minister Robeson Benn, I hope he would correct me again, said that it almost appears as it is dead if we did not get consensus, but we are all, here, undergoing torture to find consensus. Consensus is not a gift. Consensus is an attribute that one works towards. It calls for compromises, give and take and even the politeness of language. I once remember the late LFS Burnham said, “You cannot call the woman you want to marry a whore and think she will marry you.” I think, when I go back to what was said, it explains a lot about the torture this nation has gone through to find national unity, to find consensus and compromise.
The Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill, perhaps, is a misnomer but it could not be blamed on the drafter of the amendment because the parent Act is, in fact, the Hydro-Electric Power Act of 1956. It is not, in any way, connected to or even related in the antecedent to the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. To understand why it is so one should go back, perhaps much earlier, to 1891 when an Act came into being for electricity service in Guyana, then British Guiana.
The Act provides, perhaps, for what was then existed for lighting facilities on roadway, not as developed as there is by the turbines and engines, that there was some form of lighting, street lighting, was provided for. The contractor was not called a contractor; he was called an undertaker because those days electricity was a dangerous thing. It had to be undertaken under certain rules and defined condition. The first of those conditions was the safety of the environment so that one had to be careful where one had run the wires and that they did not go across tram lines because that was what existed, and so on. With the advent of electricity rules had to be made for the safe use of electricity and for the preservation of the environment, so that harm did not come to people because of the use of electricity. Here it is in 1956 when there was the Hydro-Electric Act, which came in, it was precisely that there should be conditions for anyone who sought a licence, our lease, or a permit to harness what was called, in the Act of 1956, “water powers.” In fact, that was the first time I came across the word “power” with the use of “s”, the plural, “water powers”. It was recognised even that early that anyone who would have applied for a licence to use our water powers to produce energy must have some regard to the environment.
When we come to the Parliament with an amendment to that Act, the 1956 Act, it is not a earth- shattering thing. It is what we were required to do many years ago. This talk we hear about Amaila Falls and the requirement to have it is a confession by the political Rip Van Winkle, having gone to sleep for many years and did not the whole work, that the law relating to the use of our rivers and our waters to produce energy had to be updated. It is not this political administration alone, it went back to the antecedent which had wanted to harness our river to produce hydropower.
I can go to the most recent example that in 1995, when we were debating the National Development Strategy, Amaila Falls was particularly mentioned as an area for priority attention. I have hydrologist, Mr. Raymond Dundee, and others who have worked in an early period, who had sent me designs and maps, and so on, of what they had in mind. It is not the Amaila we are talking about now. They were talking about a thousand-megawatt project at that time. We have deflated our expectation in relation to capacity, but coming back to the issue that even while we were talking in 1995 about developing hydro potential, we had not thought of amending our laws to provide for environmental safety, the offsets for the flora and the fauna. In fact, I refer to this Bill as the flora and fauna Bill, not because it is in fact the flora and fauna Bill, but I wanted to separate it from the motion which I consider the debt ceiling or guarantee ceiling motion, which I refer to as the bellyache measure because it gives a lot of people a lot of bellyache trying to figure it out, and we are still trying to figure it out.
This one was a work of a different sort, that when we gave a permit, an ancient permit, to Synergy Holding Inc. in the 1997/1998 we knew it was all about making a road to go to a falls for the purpose of the developing hydropower. We knew that, but nobody thought that as a condition for the issue of the interim licence that there should be strict conditionality as to the use and the preservation and the conservation of areas surrounding any facilities that may be eventually constructed. We did not think then but we had given out a permit and the permit, of course, is a piece of paper which changed hand. I saw the programme “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” but we have to change that now to “Who Wants to be a Billionaire” because I heard Makeshwar ‘Fip’ Motilall is going to walk away with $2.4 billion dollars for handing the piece of paper that was given to him at one stage to develop a facility.
I know many of the speakers venture into the other areas. I will not go into the other areas, at least not for now. We saw even later on when, we started to talk with serious investors, we did not think about amending the law then. That is what worries me because now we come to this House and we try to create a smokescreen that the Opposition was withholding support for the amending for the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill. When it goes out to the ordinary person out there, who is concerned only with one major issue - How much I have to pay for electricity after this hydro comes into being? How much less I have to pay? When I have to pay that less? That is all their concern - the floated Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and the Opposition is against it, it was not a so subliminal message that we are killing the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. We were slaughtering it, the Attorney General said. I heard in a press conference, the Hon. Member Gail Teixeira said, “We are here for the funeral of the project”. I have here the transcript. More colourful words were used to describe those who were slaughtering the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill, meaning (the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project). We were compared to the conquistadores; the Venezuelans who allegedly killed a previous project. We were turned in to the invaderes on the borders and we were compared to them. Therefore I am saying all these things…
Ms. Teixeira: The Hon. Member has not moved from using my name and going into all these description of Venezuela. I am afraid I never said any of those things.
Mr. Speaker: Perhaps you can say where he should start and where he should end.
Ms. Teixeira: I am not sure where he has started and ended. I just know where he started.
Mr. Speaker: What are you claiming as your statement?
Ms. Teixeira: The statement I made.
Mr. Speaker: Which is?
Ms. Teixeira: The first statement he made was based on what the Prime Minister said first at a press conference and I supported him on that. It was July 18th, downstairs, here, that the Opposition has slaughtered the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. The other things to do with the Venezuelan and everything he was talking, as he has not switched the subject, I am not sure who it is, but it is not me.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, the Hon. Member is saying that, yes, she used the word “slaughtered”, but beyond that to invasion, and so, was not part of her speech.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I would have never intended that I would have said Madam Gail Teixeira. I did not refer to her at all in this context. I said we were...
Mr. Speaker: It did appear as a follow on.
Mr. Nagamootoo: It is not that the Hon. Member Ms. Gail Teixeira who compared us with the Venezuelans and used those aggressive descriptive words. I can assure her of that and the House, never intended.
I am dealing with this issue why this connection is being made and some of that language was used here this evening. We have said, from the Alliance For Change, that this amendment... Wrongly so I am going to take responsibility for it, the environmentalist is going to criticise me for saying flora and fauna because I need to take this down for people understand… [Power outage.]
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, apologies for that interruption.
Mr. Nagamootoo: If it pleases you Your Honour. It is a timely interruption. It is like an interrogation. It asks a question: Who has criminally neglected guilty of negligence or, even culpable? It raises that issue…
Mr. Speaker: It is for causing this to happen to us.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I was going to say for the record that the reference to Venezuela and the derisive, derogatory remarks made, to associate us with that, was made by the Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali. That should make it absolutely clear.
I want to explain that the reason why I decided to say the things I said tonight... It was not my intention. I am hurt by what I have heard. It was not what I had expected because this Bill is too innocent to have attracted the kind of venom and victory, all that I heard tonight. The other side, the Government side, would have known since the last occasion, on the 18th of July, that the Alliance For Change had indicated its support for this amendment. We had come public and we had said that we had nothing against the amendment to Hydro-Electric (Amendment) Bill. Therefore the passage would have been assured with our support, but I do not think it needed our support. I do not think that was the intention. As I said, anyone who came here with patriotic fervor would have chosen support instead of propaganda and we just went into the cuss down politics of seizing the occasion for propaganda, that it could attack us and we have no means. It is very limited means of defending ourselves from the onslaught of being branded as terrorists and traitors, and so on.
Sir, this is, as I said, a piece of legislation that could have been brought several years ago. Even it is brought now, at this late hour, we also have to question how it was brought. On the 18th of July we were given three-quarter of a page as the amendment, then at the same sitting, while the session was on, we were given eight pages or further amendments, hardly any time that we could have read them, much less analyse them, study them, to give them the critical evaluation that might have elicited our support. But no, it was an attempt to sledgehammer the amendments through the Parliament and when the Government Members did not succeed, by their own fault, they went on the propaganda offences. Therefore one looks at intent and one looks at thrust and one sees all of this and one has in one’s mind a confused panorama of reality that is unfolding. Though we remain committed to supporting this measure, as good for Guyana, I need to point out these things that I am saying now that it is not the way we try to build our politics; it is not the way that we try to construct our political civilisation. We must have a way to have political discourse and the conversation without the resort to the type of political vulgarity I have heard and I sat and had to endure in this honourable House.
This here is simply a guarantee that anyone who would be permitted the use of our waterways to develop hydropower and hydro facilities anywhere in Guyana... Nowhere it is designated that that person must take appropriate measure for the management, conservation and perseveration of the environment, flora, fauna aquatic life and ecological habitat of aiding surrounding hydroelectricity generating facilities or areas intended as compensation for residual impacts from hydroelectricity generating facilities. Here it is, in relation to a facility, recognised that there may be deleterious consequences to the operation of hydroelectric facilities. To harness water, it could break the dam, it could overflow the banks, it could create damage to the environment. True, our country is not unknown to have had a concern for our environment because our environment is our life. It is our beauty. It is our Guyana that we can tell the world that we have created protected area systems to protect the life - animal life, all type of life, plants life; that we have a conservation, one of the largest perhaps in the world, Iwokrama Conservation project. We can tell the world that we have systems in place that can protect the environment, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. It is an Act that we are concerned about of the pollution of our waters, and the use of mercury and the way mining is done. We are concerned by our Forestry Act about the way we harvest our forest, the issue of deforestation and reforestation that we have a concern that goes beyond this Act. Any investor would be satisfied with the credential Guyana has that this is a concern. That it is a national concern and we do not have to come last minute - it is called in country man’s term – to “surharway” them, meaning, Sir, try to please them, that we have everything in place.
This here should have been part and parcel of a Green Paper that should have been brought to this House. There is White Paper; there is education paper; there are paper of housing, paper on health but we do not have a paper that deals with our greatest asset, which is our environment, a Green Paper that tells us in an integrated way how we intend to harness our natural resources for the benefit of our country. That is what our young people want to know, that there is a policy, a policy that is not a policy that is short-sighted or opportunistic. It should be a policy that is intended to cater for 50 years, 100 years. The future generation could be assured that this generation has them in mind when we talk about environment and when we talk about hydro facility, when we talk about protection of our ecosystem. This is what this Bill is because water power can be both harmful, if not properly harness, and it could be useful in a way we cannot imagine, hence the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project.
I want to say this, that we are going to support... I do not want to go more into it. I just read... In fact, the headline that I read just now, “The biodiversity offset,” permeates every single one of the amendments. It repeated itself because in the Act, itself, there are several different areas in which the assurance has to be given. Of course, it has to come also with penalties and punishment. While one would have said, as the Hon. Member Carl Greenidge, that the penalty could affect individuals, I believe that it is in the implementation of this law, as amended, or when amended, that we will talk about how we go about protecting people and their habitat and their lifestyles. All of that is tied in. It is not only about flora and fauna; it is about people’s culture. Those children, as they called them “children of the forest”, need to be protected as much as we are protecting the trees and we are protecting the birds and we are protecting the forest. We have to look at an integrated way in developing hydro facilities that we would have a total view of who we are protecting and that is why I say that this Bill should have come much earlier. It is not only should we have the amendment to this Act, there should have been the rules set out because this Act provides for the rules. I have not seen regulations that have been made with regard to how actually this conversation should take place
Your Honour, I am going to conclude here to say that in as much that we have reservation over the methodology of the Government, I would say that the Alliance For Change would not use that to criminalise it. We will use that as a defect that we should work upon, we should work continuously upon, to have perfect governance, to cure that defect, but for now, as a conditional guarantee, we will support this amendment. [Applause]
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