The visit this week by a high-level team from the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), confused many Grand Bahamians.
URCA’s mandate via legislation is to regulate, monitor, and control the electronic communications sector in The Bahamas. The Act of 2009 dictated such. Subsequently, again by legislation, the Electricity Act came into being about four years ago. URCA was given the authority to regulate electricity providers in the country as well.
There is a caveat though.
There is a creature called the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA). The HCA, a signed legal document between the then Bahamas Legislative Branch, and investor Wallace Groves in 1955, bestowed quasi-government status to the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and as such, full regulation authority for utility services and licenses, etc.
That was the way it was then, and, so it is to this day.
The authority vested in URCA regarding the electricity sector is understood to exclude Freeport. The GBPA has absolute power as the regulator for electricity provided by the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC). The hierarchy personnel of URCA are well aware of this proviso. However, comments made by URCA Chief Executive Officer Stephen Bereaux, during a town meeting on Wednesday past at the Foster B. Pestaina Centre, could confuse the issue.
“As most people would be aware, we have had challenges within Grand Bahama in relations to the impact of the Freeport area in the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, on URCA jurisdiction as compliance within the law. We have, however, taken the view that we have responsibility to people throughout The Bahamas as the pre-legislation says. In fact, the legislation specifically includes the port area in Grand Bahama.
“What decisions will be made by the Port as we go forward will be determined and that will happen in time. However, in the meantime, we (URCA) consider ourselves having obligation to regulate all sectors we regulate throughout the Bahamas, including Grand Bahama and the Port area,” Bereaux was quoted in The Freeport News.
That’s a most undiplomatic approach, to say the least.
Bereaux looks to be picking a fight with the GBPA and its lawyers.
The HCA covers the GBPA’s jurisdiction and its authority as the regulator of services in Freeport proper, and all that extends outside, from the particular free port city source.
The fact that URCA’s audience was just a mere handful, speaks to the doubt in Grand Bahama regarding claimed jurisdiction.
We hold the view that this scenario created by URCA is ripe for a sit-down with the GBPA, on the way forward. Let’s assume that URCA’s intent is honorable and in the interest of the Bahamian people.
Then, being aware of the complex situation, it makes sense to have talks with the GBPA before going public with what sounds like a veiled threat.
URCA is sending out confusing signals, for sure.