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Copyright ©2014 Parliament of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No.15/2013

Hits: 3884 | Published Date: 18 Jul, 2013
| Speech delivered at: 60thSitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon.Robert M. Persaud, MP

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment [Mr. R. Persaud]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Undoubtedly, Guyana’s moment has come in terms of our development of hydropower. As we here are contemplating very harmless but certainly important amendments to the Hydro- Electric Power Act, there are close to 150 countries which have, at various capacities, hydropower stations. Even as we here contemplate taking steps closer to that dream of having our own hydropower station, close to 20% of the world’s electricity is generated and produced by hydropower.
The first hydropower dam station was built sometime in the late 1870s and since then, the merits as well as the challenges of developing hydropower, the merits being celebrated and the challenges have been comprehensively addressed, so much so that we are talking about the next generation of hydroelectric stations and unit... But in our context, it is not just only about utilising our vast hydroelectric capabilities as confirmed by the UN in 1976 when a study was carried out and also based on further work done not only by multilateral agencies, but even work done by our neighbours, in particular Brazil, recognising the rich potential that we have.
This dream and the aspiration that our people have had in terms of having our own hydroelectric power station should inspire us, motivate us and be, at least, that one little reminder that if we are moving so close, why is it that we cannot have some level of consensus if only just to realise that long held dream and aspiration and ambition we have had as a nation.
Putting aside the dream and the softer side of having and realising our tremendous hydroelectric potential, it is also about the economic, social and even environmental survival of our nation too. That is where we need to also situate the importance of developing and having hydroelectric facilities, starting here with the Amaila Project.
Talk to a farmer and he or she will tell you about the potential in terms of increase in production and productivity. That farmer will then show you a can of tomato paste, will pick up a fruit pulp – mango, cherry – or even will show you a Goya canned vegetables, then that farmer will say, “Why is it that we cannot produce these items? Why is it can we not have value added?” Very quickly that farmer will realise too that the main limitation in moving from just a primary commodity exporting nation in terms of agriculture to one of substantial value added, the barrier is the cost of electricity and also having unreliable electricity. That farmer will also tell you that the solution lies in us developing our rich hydroelectric potential.
If we turn to the forester or someone who has a concession or a little furniture plant, they will complain that it is sometimes difficult to compete with the imported furniture, be it desks, doors, even what you use in your living room and dining room. They will say we have the wood and the species but we cannot convert these at a competitive rate. What we find is that the concessionaire will tell you that we have to export the log or the sawn timber and then, as a country, we import the finished product. That haunts and certainly demoralises those who operate in the forestry sector because, again, that barrier lies in the lack of cheap and reliable electricity.
We can then look in terms of the mineral sector. If we talk about bauxite which, today, has, in a way, rejuvenated, we see increased production and new mines developed and then we will complain, as a nation, that we are not getting enough value for our bauxite product. And if you talk to the operators and those who want to come and invest, put down a kiln for alumina or not even moving down the value added stream, again, the main factor that is preventing us is the lack of affordable and reliable electricity.
If you go and examine all the sectors and subsectors of our economy, you can see how much we are losing as a nation. You can see how much of our development is being held back and you can see the frustration in the private sector and even the new investors who want to come because the fact and the reality is that our country does not have affordable and reliable electricity. We will never be able to, perhaps, unless or until we are able to have a significant commercial discovery of gas or oil; we will not be able to afford a competitive electricity system and supply through the importation of fossil fuel.
Perhaps what we are discussing here is the withholding of this country’s potential. What we are discussing here is about what we need to do to move to the next stage, to the next level, to that higher plane of prosperity and of progress; prosperity and progress lead to social and other forms of stability that is so necessary for our country’s development.
Certainly, any objective observer or analysts sitting in the public gallery or benefiting from the traditional as well as new media being used to carry the debate, would wonder and would be startled.
Why is it that this Nation with this rich and tremendous hydro-power potential is discussing whether or not there should be broad support for amendments and eventually the entire project? Perhaps persons would be amused. We need to take that seriously because not only in terms of local stakeholders, but others looking on. Perhaps the wider Guyanese public too, I may dare say, will be looking at us here with a level of disappointment, that in this age and will all the evidence and all that is before us, we are still talking about having consensus and support for something so necessary, so important  [Member: So right.]   ...and so just and right, as I am hearing from the back, as having a hydro-electric power station.
This journey by our nation to embark on its own hydro-electric power facility did not only commence with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Civic. It has commenced decades ago. It is one, which I am sure, listening to statements, reading documents used at various elections or parties have recognised and stressed the importance of us developing our own hydro-electric facilities. So why it is in July of 2013, we here, meeting in the National Assembly, all of us have spoken in broad terms, affirming, dedicating, saying that if we are re-elected we would move forward in terms of the development and yet we are in July 2013, sending mixed signals; perhaps sending confusing signals, as to whether or not we are serious about the development of a hydro-electric facility and outlet.
Certainly, the PPP/Civic has made it quite clear and we have shown, by the steps and the actions we have taken that we are serious about the eventual development of a hydro-electric station. If for any chance and we hope not and we hope that better sense will prevail, that a judgement will prevail; that the Nation’s interest will be paramount and that my Colleagues in the Opposition side will perhaps see the merit in supporting the amendments and these initiatives. Let us say that they do not; I want to assure you, Mr. Speaker, and the people of Guyana that the PPP/Civic will not be daunted and that we will stay the course of ensuring that there be hydro-electric development in our country. Whether it is not today, there will always be tomorrow, but we will get it done, as we have always said from the time the PPP/Civic was the PPP and even before we achieved independence, we made it clear that we are focused and committed to the development and the construction of a hydro-electric station in our country.
I am quite sure that our learned Colleagues dedicated and patriot Guyanese, as they are, will certainly see the merit and the National imperative of supporting the amendments and also supporting steps that will take us towards the development of hydro-electric in our country.
Why is it that we have sought to present the Hydro-Electric Power Bill 2013, with the further accompanying amendments? Because we are able to benefit from the experiences of other nations of under-projects, learning as it was, from the possible environmental and other social implications that would accompany a project of this nature or magnitude. We have decided that also to get the support of the International Community, financing and otherwise, we want to ensure that we get it right and that what we do is consistent with the current international standards, environmental and technological in terms of developing hydro-electric in our country.
The amendments would allow us, not only to be compliant, not only with our international partners, but would also ensure that in the development of this project, we stay true to our national commitment of ensuring that the impact of this project on the environment is minimised. Also because this project is very central to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), we also want to ensure that adequate safe guards are put in place so that we can minimise whatever potential fall-out we may have.
Put very simply, the objectives of these amendments are to create what is called an off-set area. The project itself and the dam will be built at the confluence of the Kuribrong and the Amaila Rivers also, because the project is located within proximity of the Kaieteur National Park too. Other works will be done in terms of the environmental works being done, which detected some endemic fish species. Ensuring that the development of this dam does not affect the bio-diversity of the area or in any way contribute negatively, in terms of environmental derogation, the Government is seeking to amend this Act. The Government also will be coming subsequently with regulations to ensure that the area is adequately and competently managed so that we can minimise as it were, any potential fallout.
For me and I am sure that for many Guyanese, the question is, why can there not be broad consensus to support such an amendment? An amendment which will allow this project to go forward to be a model project; to be one in which we are able to meet the highest of environmental standards. Why is it that the Opposition and Colleagues in the Opposition would not want to support such amendments? The amendments here are not political in nature. They are not here for anyone. Its passage will not bring any political points or glory to anyone. It is just about us as a Nation, not the PPP/Civic, but Guyana as a Nation, in our march forward, and our efforts to develop a hydro-electric station, that we do it in compliance with the best environmental safeguards as advised by our international partners and others.
I want to stress that the Government and our partners in moving forward with this project, has always placed great emphasis on the environmental safeguard, as we have done, in ensuring that we have the best technology, the best efficiency and as it were, ensuring that we have the next generation of hydro-electric technology available. But we have placed a lot of emphasis on ensuring that there are the environmental safeguards. So much so, that for this particular project, the first application that was made for environmental authorisation to commence the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) project dates back to December 2000. It shows that for more than 12 years, the efforts, the investments and that commitment that has been put into this project to ensure that we take care of the various environmental factors.
Since 2000, when Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted in 2002 and with the environmental permit granted in 2002, then again when it expired in 2007, the permit was renewed up to the end of last year. Even currently as we speak here, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is undertaking measures for the new permit to be finalised and issued.
Yes, there is urgency and yes perhaps persons may say, “Why only now?” Certainly the Minister of Finance, Prime Minister and other Colleagues on this side on previous occasions and certainly perhaps we will hear more tonight, would have outlined in detail that long journey. But what I have merely referred to is the efforts and the emphasis that we have placed in ensuring that development of this project is not harmful to our environment. I must say too that in our quest to ensure that the necessary environmental safeguards are met, there will be some levels of displacements. There are some mining activities; we have adjoining forestry activities taking place; we have also Amerindian communities, directly and indirectly that relates and the mechanisms in managing those displacements have already been study. In fact, some of them have already been activated. Even the regulations itself that will be put in place will allow some level of flexibility. Because whilst we have made some commitments in terms of the development of the off-set area, it does not take away our National sovereignty; it does not take away the sovereign rights of this Nation to make decisions too in the future.
We should not think too that our efforts to amend and meet this international safeguard is in any way ignoring the rights of persons who may be operating, benefiting or conducting activities within those, because those individuals, their activities will have to be addressed by compensation, in terms of providing alternative areas and also by ensuring that we have the necessary facilities in place so that no one is negatively affected or no activity is hampered in this regard. It is the manner in which we approached this matter. As much as we are eager; as much as we want to ensure adequate urgency, we also want to ensure that we cater for whatever other possible issues that may arise from this particular area.
These have been dealt with and are being dealt with and are being addressed. In so doing, as I have said, the objective of this amendment or the amendments proposed will allow us as some of our Colleagues on the Opposition have asked, “Well we need to see, take for instance the International development Bank (IDB) support for this project before we move in this direction.” Perhaps the IDB has said that unless and until these safe guards are put then is when one will get the type of unconditional support and endorsement. That is what we are seeking to do. To ensure that our international partners and all those who are involved too in this project development, meet the various requirements, but also and more importantly, that in our development of this project, we do it right and ensure that the necessary safeguards are met.
The merits or the advantages or the benefits of this project are well known. Various stakeholder groups, as I have said, have spoken put in support. Even last evening, I have seen the Private Sector urging us, Parliamentarians here to, to put the country first and to support this project. [Mr. Trotman: Let them put some money!]     They do put money in this country because they invest and create jobs for Guyanese and they want to put more money in this country and they want to create more jobs. That is why they want hydro. [Interruption] That is why they are arguing. That is why they are doing it. They create jobs; they do not create hot air. They are the engine of growth. That is why they have insisted and has urged us to ensure that we conduct ourselves and as it were, we deliver on our responsibility to the people of this country.
Also, if we look in terms of the economic value, close to US$3.5 billion this country will save by having the hydro-electric station; this particular project alone. Imagine the savings that will come to this nation; imagine the effect that will have in terms of the short and long term. If we look at the economic benefits, it is shocking and certainly appalling as to why it is a project of this nature and more so the amendments that are before us, why it is that they cannot enjoy the full support. I am quite sure, I am still hopeful, I am an optimist...    [Dr. Singh: There is still time.] There is still time. That Members of the Opposition will certainly come around in ensuring that these amendments, as part of the steps that we need to take, are supported, so that eventually we can have in our country, and realise that dream for the people of Guyana, a hydro-electric station. With those few words, I wish to support the amendments in the Prime Minister’s name and do urge all Members of the House to support it. [Applause]

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