WHILE Trinidad and Tobago's Energy Minister is seeking to sensitise the nation on the billions of dollars being spent to subsidise fuel consumption, across in Guyana the government is currently locked in a battle to resolve a crisis situation following a decision in June to reduce the billions of dollars in subsidised electricity consumption in the bauxite mining town of Linden.
Last month, what was announced to be a peaceful five-day protest by Lindeners against the government's implementation of a phased national equalisation in electricity tariff, quickly degenerated into confrontation between protesters and police that left three dead and a dozen injured.
According to T&T's Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, in this country—Caricom's sole substantially energy-based economy—the fuel subsidy is too costly to sustain. For the first nine months last year it cost the national treasury TT$3.3 billion. This level of subsidy, said the minister, is "simply spoiling" T&T consumers.
In Guyana, residents of Linden, located 65-miles south of the capital Georgetown, are in rebellion against having to pay a comparatively minimal phased increase, starting from 10 per cent to 50 per cent per kilowatt-hour for residential electricity consumption.
This hike would, in the end, simply place Lindeners on par, for the first time, with the electricity tariff being paid by the rest of consumers across Guyana, including the indigenous people and others in the sprawling interior regions.
Linden, which bears the first name of the late President Forbes Burnham (Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham), is one of ten geographical regions with a population of approximately 60,000 in a country of 83,000 square miles and 752,000 multi-ethnic people.
The Prime Minister of Guyana, Samuel Hinds, a licensed and qualified chemical engineer, and himself a native of Linden, had told the country's parliament in June that it was simply too difficult to continue the level of subsidisation of electricity consumption in the mining town.
The subsidy cost for Linden alone was Guy$2.7 billion (Guy$200=US$1) in 2011. The phased equalisation process in electricity tariff for Linden, was announced by Mr Hinds in parliament.
But no sooner had the Prime Minister made public the agreement reached with the Opposition Leader David Granger on the phased introduction for eventual equalisation of electricity tariff, consistent with what obtains across Guyana, the combined opposition (APNU and the minority Alliance For Change) went on the political offensive against the new tariff structure.
The opposition in general (including Granger) decided to oppose the hike because the Alliance for Change, the minority party with seven seats in the House, made clear that it would not go along with the agreement. They then started to agitate for a suspension of the hike instead of the government's decision to place it on temporary hold.
The shooting deaths of three protesters enraged the Linden community, a strategic transportation link between the capital Georgetown and mining and agricultural communities in the interior regions.
And, not unexpectedly, the opposition has been making much of that tragedy, including arranging a "heroes' funeral" of the fallen trio at the "Square of the Revolution" in Georgetown; objecting to the terms of reference for an independent inquiry into the Linden shooting tragedy. Further, fostering of a climate of tension that continue to contribute to food, fuel and other supplies to other regional communities.
On Monday, following a rescheduled meeting between President Donald Ramotar and a delegation from Region 10, representing the Linden community, came the first hopeful signal for a breakthrough to end the costly political impasse which is affecting daily living conditions for the mining town.
Chairman Solomon, who was accompanied by parliamentary representatives of APNU and the Alliance for Change, said in a media statement:
"We are at a very hopeful stage in discussion…some progress has been made in establishing a technical committee to examine the feasibility of Lindeners paying more for electricity…and we will continue to engage each other…"
For his part, President Ramotar was separately telling a delegation of Amerindian leaders that his government was not contemplating a reversal, at this time, of the gradual increase in the electricity tariff which has been placed on hold for original implementation from July 1.
The President said if other far-flung regions could honour their payment obligations it was difficult to appreciate why Lindeners cannot cooperate with the proposed minimal hike over a staggered period.
However, a much bigger problem for Lindeners and the government has now emerged.
It is the surprising decision, as made public on Monday, by the foreign-owned company, Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Incorporated (BMGGI), for a temporary shut down of operations in the mining town.
This development, it regretted, was due to its inability to make any bauxite shipment over the past two weeks as a direct consequence of the political crisis in Linden that had led to blocked transportation routes.