General — 08 November 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Belize energy minister says Caribbean rendered “borderless” by globalization

“With the reality of globalization, which renders our societies borderless, we must harmonize our policies and regulations for the benefit of the Caribbean.”

– Senator Audrey Joy Grant – Minister of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities

Utility regulators from across the Caribbean are meeting in Belize this week, as a part of a conference to discuss the way forward for the utility sectors in the region. One salient point which emerged from the start of the event is the move for countries to “create one economic space through CARICOM and other Regional blocs,” as Senator Audrey Joy Grant – Minister of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities, noted in her feature address on the occasion of the 11th Annual Conference of The Organisation of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR), being held inside the Caracol Room of the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City.

OOCUR is a non-profit organization established by an agreement dated July 26, 2002 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Belize’s Public Utilities Commission, which is a member of OOCUR, is hosting the three-day event at which delegates will explore the theme “Challenges to Regulatory Power in Borderless Societies.”

“The conference theme is not only of relevance to Belize but to the Caribbean as a whole as we strive to create one economic space through CARICOM and other regional blocs. The fact is that some investors see the Caribbean as a market of several million and not as the individual national populations of say Belize, Jamaica, Barbados or Guyana; therefore, they view the opportunities in that context,” said Minister Grant.

She also addressed the reality of globalization, saying that, “With the reality of globalization, which renders our societies borderless, we must harmonize our policies and regulations for the benefit of the Caribbean.”

In Belize, there is defensiveness about our borders, particularly in the context of relations with Guatemala, we said to the minister. We asked: How would you drive this point home to Belizeans who don’t necessarily agree that we are already a borderless society?

“I want to say that the issue of the Guatemala claim is a real one and one that we have to address and one that we must solve as quickly as we can. However, while that is happening, a lot of other things are also happening. For example, we are looking at energy – let’s say electricity. We are purchasing now from Mexico, but we would want to reach the point sooner rather than later where we can use renewable energy – mainly biofuels, because we have a comparative advantage there, for our own needs, and if there is excess, there is no reason why we can’t get into the regional transmission lines and sell to the other countries. Remember that we also have a free trading agreement with Guatemala already and trade is improving and increasing…” Minister Grant told our newspaper.

In her formal remarks, the minister shared her vision for the day when there will be a single regulatory body with individual country representation.

“Indeed, can you see the day when there will no longer be a need for regulators in each country but one regulatory body with individual country representation? I do,” she said.

When we asked her to clarify this comment, Minister Grant told Amandala that in every presentation she makes, she tries to make a provocative statement – this one, she said, with the hope that, although she realizes that the countries present would likely disagree with such a proposition, they could look to see where they can reach at some point, and so become more efficient in their work.

“It is, therefore, not only important for our governments to work together to harmonize our laws and policies, where feasible, but it is important that our regulatory institutions, which are a critical part of governance, also seek to harmonize regulatory policies and practices. We all know that there are two major telecommunication companies that already have a presence in almost every country in the region. Likewise, we are seeing increasing incidences of common ownership of the electric utilities across countries,” the minister added.

J. Paul Morgan, OOCUR chairman, noted, at the opening, that this is the second time Belize is chairing the Caribbean conference.

“We are, in fact, seeing a shift in this meeting, where for the first time electricity and water issues are beginning to dominate the agenda,” Morgan commented. “This reflects the changing times and the focus of the changing regulatory issues in the region.”

The chairman also said that high fuel prices, climate change and the persistent global economic meltdown have introduced major challenges for all the countries, particularly in regard to electricity prices.

Morgan spoke of the need for a new regulatory paradigm, as well as the need for investment in new infrastructure to realize the needed changes.

Morgan told us outside the conference that, “Perhaps the single most [significant] challenge that we have as a region is the competitiveness of our economies, and that really translates now to the cost of energy. In Trinidad, you see they have fairly high economic activity because in Trinidad electricity is cheap. But as you come up the region to those countries who really don’t have indigenous sources of fuel, the cost is just being aligned to what’s happening externally.”

He said that renewables clearly will become a major factor in the whole power generation mix.

Morgan also pointed to the creation of that single economic space, saying that, “The more investors look at us, if we can present a common space, a unified space to them – ‘cause they really see us as a block of people, not as individual territories – if we can present this consistent regulatory framework to investors, I think you will see an increase in willingness for investors to invest in the region.”

Roberto Young, general manager- – engineering and planning of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), told Amandala that, “One thing that shows you that we are in a borderless society is that we have been accustomed to using a mobile device. We can go to any country and that device works, as though you are still home. So that’s one way of showing that really in telecom, there’s no border. By that then you can increase your business from anywhere in the world.”

Young gave a presentation today on the digital dividend, which relates to television frequencies in Belize and how long-term evolution is deployed within the regional context.

During the course of the meetings, participants will explore the following topics: environmental issues in electricity and water; assessing the effectiveness of telecoms reforms; system losses – the impact on consumers and on the national economy; non-revenue water: a cause of concern for regional service providers; market reform: does regulated state-owned enterprises compromise regulator’s values; managing the regulatory process: working with the news media to get the message across; and the possible effects of radiation on a community from cell sites.

Among the Belize utility delegates present this morning were former PUC chairman, Dr. Gilly Canton, who is now the CEO of Belize Natural Energy Trust; Karen Bevans – Chief Operations Officer of Belize Telemedia Limited; Jeffery Locke – CEO of Belize Electricity Limited; Alvan Haynes – CEO of Belize Water Services Limited, and Dr. Colin Young – CEO in the Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities.

The other countries represented at the gathering include The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Curacao and Trinidad. The UK and US are attending as observers.

The OOCUR Conference concludes Friday, November 8, 2013.

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