There should always be pulsating competition within our service industries, especially those that ordinary Guyanese rely on daily.
Here in Guyana not too many companies, local or foreign, brave the sometimes thorny consumer market to create the type of competition that can benefit consumers, especially in the areas of water, electricity and telephone. These are considered essential services.
The Guyana Power and Light (GPL) basically supplies electricity to a large percentage of the populist. Then there is the monopoly on water supplied by the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI), which is managed by the Irish firm, Severn Trent. And of course the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd. (GT&T) which enjoys a monopoly on the provision of land line telephone service.
The Government gave a commitment that after it penetrated GT&T’s monopoly on the provision of cellular service, it would pursue any possible course of action to sever the company’s monopoly as stipulated in an agreement signed with the then PNCR administration.
Now that the aggressive Caribbean mobile company Digicel has acquired Celstar, one can only imagine that consumers will be the greatest benefactor and not the Government.
Celstar was the Government’s straw to break the huge market share enjoyed by GT&T in the mobile industry but, that was not to be. Digicel is an aggressive company that has worked its way through the Caribbean and now seeks to march through the South American markets. They have shown in the last three years that they have the capacity to do so and will be tested by the Guyana market.
It is most welcoming to know that finally a company can challenge GT&T in some aspect of its service. But what about the other companies, those providing the essential services such as water and electricity? There has been no move by the Government to break those monopolies. Probably the answer lies in the fact that Government is a major shareholder at GPL and GWI.
However, GPL is not the only company that provides electricity to Guyanese. There are other companies that do so in the inland regions. The services offered by GPL and GWI are described as distasteful and unfriendly to consumers. The majority of consumers that receive bills from these two companies feel insure about the amounts they receive on their bills.
It is no wonder that GPL looses approximately US$50 Bln annually to electricity theft. The majority of consumers that opt to steal electricity are those who have been connected legally and not those who are living in low income housing areas which are yet to receive the service. This was a predestined thought before GPL announced recently that a survey showed that prominent businesses are stealing electricity despite having the service. Generally it is felt that GPL cannot be trusted and theories abound to support this fear.
The ordinary man could tell tales that GPL has over billed them at some period over the last six months. That is a common complaint by consumers who find it difficult to make ends meet. It is hard to imagine that in the technology and information age, GPL still gives a consumer an average bill based on a reading done every three to four months.
If averages were the way to go then charges could not be too far away from the charge prepared when the meter reading took place. Think again. GPL sometimes bills a pensioner for millions when that same pensioner would have received a bill the previous month for less than $20,000. GPL continues to fleece consumers, but the Government which should be safeguarding its citizens, turns a blind eye. Instead, the Government backed Power Company recently moved to disconnect the city council for millions of dollars it owed.
In the same vein the company owes the City Council millions of dollars too. Instead of arriving at an agreement, GPL disconnects the power as a tactic to bring pressure on those managing the affairs of the city. The Government believes that the City Council should be replaced by an Interim Management Committee (IMC) and not through Local Government Elections.
Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall moved a Motion in the National Assembly last Thursday to postpone the elections for 2006. If the Government’s sinister plot to replace the Council was not clear enough, President Bharrat Jagdeo himself made it clear that the Government was taking over in managing the clean up exercise in the city for Cricket World Cup. This was another avenue to embarrass the council.
If that was not enough, the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) which is led by a man that joined the PPP/C ring is leading workers on a strike action. Some of those workers have called for an IMC.
The Government should know better. An IMC in Georgetown will never happen. Georgetown should become a competitive arena where political parties can present the best plan to the electorate and have them decide. If the Government feels that it could serve well then it should have no problem competing in a competitive election race for control of the capital.
Similarly, consumers should be given an opportunity to be faced with an array of choices when it comes to the provision of essential services.
GWI with is poor billing process and almost empty pipelines, GT&T’s slow rate of expansion of the landline service and GPL treacherous billing system would all be replaced if there was vibrant competition.
Evidence is there to be seen that competition prompts good changes for the consumer and for the company. One just needed to look at GT&T’s GSM system which was non-existent before Government announced Celstar’s entrance into the market.
The Government should seriously consider liberating the water and electricity sectors and maybe they will start using the phrase: “getting better all the time.”