By Carl B. Nisbett

A few NRP supporters, some employed by the NIA and even a minister or two, have decided to have a go at what I have written in The Observer over the past two weeks.

Interestingly, they have done so not by addressing the points I made but by running away from the Bill. One would expect my discussions of the provisions of the Bill would spur a defense of those provisions or some explanation or clarification of them. Instead, they have decided to run from the Bill as one would take to the highway and the byway to escape an erupting volcano. I suspect it is their tacit admission that the ministers of government have failed Nevisians with this Bill.

One set of responses read thus: that “CCM was going to give geothermal away to the federal government,” an admission that this NIA has “given it away”.

However, I have likened that position to this: If a CCM member were to drive a car near the edge of a cliff, stopping short of going over it, the response from the NRP would be to pack the car with NRP ministers and drive it at break neck speed over the cliff to prove they can do it “better” than the CCM.

In any event, this is not about the CCM or the NRP. It is about a resource that should be of immense benefit to the people of Nevis but for a private Bill imposed on the public weal for the benefit of WIP.

Another line of defense goes thus: “The OAS, UNIDO and WIP were involved with drafting this Bill” so if I disagree with the Bill I must “disagree with the representatives of those entities.”

May I remind us that the representatives of those entities were not elected to represent the interests of Nevisians. As best as I can recall, they were not even on the ballot. May I also remind that it matters not what others do or say because the ultimate responsibility rests with the NIA. It is an uncanny admission by those same supporters that the NIA in this instance failed miserably but they feel the need to blame others.

On to other matters. James Gaskell, in the July 25 – July 31 edition of the Leeward Times, has opined concerning geothermal. I agree with him on calling for the release of the names of the investors in WIP. With all the money to be spent and with the recently announced project by WIP to be started in Dominica, we also need to know if WIP has the financial resources and the expertise to work on two or more projects at the same time or are they biting off more than they can chew.

I also agree with him concerning the health and noise concerns of a geothermal plant. What may go unnoticed in larger islands could have dire affects on a much smaller one. Other concerns include how would any seepage over a period of time affect the aquifer. We must ask questions now and we need not be “experts” to do so. It should be a matter of public concern and dialogue.

We know the maxim: “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” If we are having any discussion on such matters later on, it simply means it is a bit too late because something would have happened to start the concerns and the conversation. This is novel to the people. Be upfront with them.

Mr. Gaskell also points out that what Terry McDonald told him months back about the cost of certain geothermal infrastructure differs with the US $119 million recently mentioned. It is one of the reasons we need an open discussion on these matters so that if one thing is said now but something different is said later on we can demand an explanation. As it stands, a few people are getting some information in private but Nevisians on a whole are being kept in the dark and there is no need for it. The “he says” or “she says” will not do.

However, Mr. Gaskell ignores the Bill on a critical financial matter. He says “If the NRP administration concludes an arrangement whereby cheap electricity is made available to the people and foreign sales bring in large sum to our Revenue, [certain] criticisms will go away.” He also says “if there is a profit sharing agreement anything the Ordinance may say about royalties assumes a lesser importance.”

That is simply ignoring the fact that the Bill sets out the revenue sharing arrangement whereby the NIA would receive five percent (5%) or less for domestic sales and ten percent (10%) or less for international sales and I have discussed those in detail.

Are we to believe that the Bill is really a farce? That this law is not law at all? Are we to take that attitude with other laws or only this one?

This Ordinance controls the conduct of the parties involved. It is the law. A revenue or profit sharing agreement cannot override the provisions of the law. It must fall within the confines of those provisions.

I guess that is his admission that this Bill in its present form will fail to “bring in large sum to our revenue” in the future.

The people must be concerned about those revenues. The NIA has borrowed and is currently borrowing large sums of money to finish the roads and other projects. That debt added on to the previous debt must be serviced. The scheduled principal and interest must be paid. At the same time, the NIA needs funds to run the government daily. It is why property and other taxes are on the increase. It is why there is an increasing withholding from payroll to assist with medical costs.

The revenues from the geothermal resources, if Nevisians were to get the lion’s share of the revenues, would go a long way in helping to meet those financial obligations.

Again, although it is far from being a foregone conclusion, we are discussing this on the premise that geothermal will be successful in Nevis. And there is a Bill to discuss.

Mr. Gaskell speaks of lower electricity bills from geothermal and Nevisians will be counting on it. Consider, however, that geothermal will have no impact on the cost of other critical services or goods. If worldwide energy prices remain high, Nevisians will still have to pay high prices for food, gas, vehicles, transportation, clothing, building supplies, health care supplies and medication, travel for emergency or leisure and a number of other goods and services.

You add on paying higher taxes, especially property taxes or payroll deductions, and it is a heavy burden that Nevisians will have to carry.

That is why the lion’s share of revenues from geothermal would be so critically important to Nevisians. It would help to service the debt, maintain the roads, ports and other facilities, keep the government up and running daily, cover the cost of health care and it would avoid the need to raise taxes on the people and may even be the basis for the reduction of taxes.

As the Bill stands, the investors in WIP get the lion’s share of the revenues. And, while they will get their tax breaks, taxes on Nevisians will be on the increase.

The geothermal resources belong to the people of Nevis. They, not someone else, must receive the lion’s share of the revenues from those resources. To take a position contrary to that – the Bill – is a callous disregard for the people’s wisdom, intelligence and best interests.

Have a fun filled and safe Culturama.