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Laws That Bind

By James Moss-Solomon

Published January 31st, 2010

The Jamaican language, so full of nuances, is a remarkable and expressive medium. One of the most important things in proving yourself to be a Jamaican is knowing the difference between “clyde” and “bind”. For the uninitiated, the former means that you have had a sufficient amount of something and cannot take any more (cloyed). The second speaks to the inability to pursue normal bodily excretory functions. How is this relevant to our discussion?

Well, some lawmakers are saying that we should enforce the laws which we have on our books. At the same time, former prime minister PJ Patterson, himself a legal luminary, opined that the law should not be considered a shackle. Between these two opinions lies a great divide and as most lawyers would tell you, on one hand this is the case and on the other hand the opposite could be true; I will take the advice of my late friend Bruce Rickards who suggested that what we really need is a “one-hand lawyer”.

This may seem laughable, but when we look at our laws we find that there is a serious need for revising, clarifying and simplifying these as we move into a more modern era. I would hate to see all of our large hotels closed and fined for failing to provide a watering trough and hitching post for horses and mules. What is more serious is that where ambiguity exists, the Government takes the opportunity to use it as a hurdle or obstacle in what was considered an ordinary flat 100-metre race. This leaves the Government with ample opportunity to practise favouritism, or worse, corruption.

One area which needs to be clarified, especially as our citizens are looking at alternative and productive ways to invest, is that of alternative energy. What should be the role of a privatised JPS has become a nightmare of confusion for the potential investor. For example, could the developer of a housing scheme put in place sufficiently adequate alternative power sources without having to connect to JPS? If this were possible then the demand on the current system, driven by fossil fuels, could be significantly reduced, and provide further incentives for housing development. The same could be true of alternative sources of potable water and self-contained and environmentally friendly sewage treatment. This could reduce the demand on the NWC significantly, especially as it

currently is not a profitable venture. The relief to the NWC could perhaps allow it to begin replacing their underground distribution, and preventing the 40 per cent loss they seem to be experiencing. This act alone could negate the need for additional reservoirs and other storage methods.

But back to the JPS. In the minds of the OUR, the Wigton Wind Farm which sells to the JPS at around seven US cents per kWh seems to have become a common denominator. They are seemingly afraid to allow other new suppliers to charge more than seven cents as they believe that that might warrant the JPS requesting another rate increase. Wigton, which was heavily grant-funded by Michael Lee-Chin and the Government of Jamaica, cannot therefore be a common denominator. I am sure that the private power companies who sell to the JPS cannot meet that artificial price using oil-based generating methods. Therefore, it seems to me that in order to have a sustainable and competitive electricity rate going into the future, we need to have a fair and open policy on allowing investment in these alternative energy areas and renewable energy. Let us face it, wind, hydro-electricity, garbage to power, solar, and photo-voltaic forms of energy cannot all be sold at the artificial Wigton price. So by allowing the JPS to have monopoly powers may in fact condemn us to continuing reliance on depleting fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels, whether oil or natural gas, are not renewable energy sources. Many countries have already started to estimate the year in which their access to oil and natural gas in their own countries will cease. Suffice it to say that based on recent estimates, this could begin to happen by around 2050, which is only 40 years away. So even the oil-rich countries have begun to diversify. Power is something that modern civilisation cannot do without, and we can see that a global dependence on a depleting resource is about as intelligent as firing all the nuclear arsenals at once. Mankind would be subject to massive starvation and death if this were to happen, so to pretend that the future lies with oil and/or natural gas is to pin your hope to a falling star.

The Government of Jamaica needs to remove the roadblocks which the private investor now faces in the limitation of access to renewable and alternative energy sources. These opportunities are very current as we need to retain and attract investment in all these areas before the money goes to other countries that have removed the hurdles and are actively pursuing the investors. Jamaica cannot be left in the starting blocks, particularly at a time when we need to show our overseas creditors that we can somewhat help ourselves, rather than our continued mendicancy to the IMF and the other multilateral lending agencies. Self-praise is no recommendation, but self-reliance is an admirable trait that was well recommended by National Hero Marcus Garvey. The prime minister has said openly that we are at a crossroads, and he is perfectly correct. There is no room for us to wiggle out of this predicament in which we find ourselves. Therefore we need to chart a course that is unhindered by unnecessary and/or irrelevant legislation.

Some of our future directions are simply common sense. If we didn’t import so much oil, our oil bill would be less. If we were to invest in renewable energy sources then there would be little foreign exchange drain, except where any capital equipment is needed. This capital equipment would be a better investment than lowering taxes on luxury vehicles. As an aside, what has happened to the government policy which suggested that the use of diesel-powered vehicles would be more advantageous to the country? Those of us who have switched to diesel vehicles now find ourselves paying more at the pump than we would for gasoline, an example of what happens when the Government speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Frankly, I am tired of not having a comprehensive plan on which to make sound investment decisions. This has been the case since I started working in 1971. The net effect is that as a Jamaican, it has become increasingly more difficult and unpredictable based on the changing promises of governments, to decide whether I am “clyde” or “bind”. On one hand, I have had enough of vague government policies, so I guess I’m “clyde”. On the other hand, it seems that their regular change of moods has left me unable to proceed, so I guess I am also “bind”. Neither condition helps us to clear the obstacles which face us.

So I guess I’m hoping for a one-hand government.



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