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Jan 3, 2020

B.T.B. Brings B.W.S. and B.E.L. to the Table in Caye Caulker

Five days of water and electricity outages on the island of Caye Caulker, have resulted in massive financial losses. While the two utilities have been restored, the economic impact is adding up.  At a meeting with residents today, convened by the Belize Tourism Board, the losses are expected to exceed one million dollars.  The private sector and residents are feeling the pain and looking for viable solutions as the high tourism season gets underway. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The concerns of many on the island of Caye Caulker, including residents, business owners and guests, were once again brought to the attention of the Government of Belize via a stakeholder meeting this morning.  Organized and hosted by the Belize Tourism Board, the forum allowed for all affected parties to vent their frustrations, following a turbulent week during which scores of visitors vacated the island due to intermittent power outages and a shortage of potable water.


Property Owner

“When we lost power, my boyfriend has a heart condition, so I am wondering, going forward, what are we doing for people that have health conditions that are urgent.  There is nothing on the island, there is no generating station, there is no cooling station, people who have medications that need to be refrigerated, I myself don’t look so good because my EpiPens were spoiled and I am reacting from the sand flies.  So not only have I lost money, I’ve lost time and I almost lost my boyfriend and I am sure there are other people on this island who have health conditions that are similar.  What are we supposed to do and I want to know… I’m not even sure who I would speak to about this.”


It is among the many concerns coming out of a most miserable experience where basic utilities provided for everyone on the island were cut off for various reasons beyond the control of the respective companies.  Having fully appreciated what went terribly wrong at a critical juncture in the village’s economic state of affairs, the chief executive officers of both utility companies, B.E.L. and B.W.S., addressed measures that will be taken in the days ahead.


John Mencias

John Mencias, C.E.O., Belize Electricity Limited

“We will order an additional unit, new brand, and that should be in here, now I want to admit that we had not planned to have it in place by two to three weeks time, but we had definitely planned to have it in place before the Easter.  But now, we have already expedited delivery and that should be here in two to three weeks time and up and running.  But in the meantime, we have only three units of the four that are in service.  There is one that is down and the timeline for bringing that back into service is either three days or two to three weeks.  It’s an electrical problem with the rotor and we have not been able to determine, we have technicians working on it right now determining the extent of the problem.”


B.E.L.’s team of technicians are working feverishly to solve the issue of intermittent power outage, meanwhile B.W.S. is anticipating that with the arrival and subsequent installation of a new shaft that full water pressure for commercial and residential use will be restored on Caye Caulker.


Alvan Haynes

Alvan Haynes, C.E.O., Belize Water Services Ltd.

“We’re pleased to say that we’re now at full pressure and one of the brand new shafts that we have gotten them to rush will land in country on Tuesday.  So we’re crossing our fingers and toes that we are good at least until that one is in.  But so far, the team, I think, has done exemplary work, as most of you are aware that things break down.  Cars have mechanical problems, blown tires; boats, the engines conk out at sea, there are certain things you just can’t plan for even with regular maintenance.”


Losses, notwithstanding measures that are now being taken by the utilities to rectify the problems, will be staggering.  This in mind, will the companies face any consequences for these costly hiccups?


John Avery

John Avery, Chairman, Public Utilities Commission

“We’ve seen where financial penalties may not have much of an effect.  In rate reviews, we have sought to lower revenues for utilities in Belize, B.W.S. is a good example, but the government routinely supports B.W.S. financially.  So if we impose any financial penalty there is no real impact because the company is already receiving financial support from the government and that covers anything that we can do.”


So what powers, if any, does the Public Utilities Commission have in addressing these systematic failures?


John Avery

“The impression we get from people is that they believe the P.U.C. can pick up a phone and instruct the utilities what to do.  That isn’t the case.  The utilities are private companies with private investors and they have a lot of protection under the law, just like any other business, any other person in this country.  They have their natural rights and they have all of these things that must be respected in dealing with them.  And so, although the law gives the P.U.C. authority to issue orders or directives or these other things, none of these process can be accomplished in less than six weeks.  So there is nothing available to the P.U.C. to put any immediate enforcement action on anyone.  That is just strictly how the law is written.  The regime intended that the government sets policies, the P.U.C. enforces and the utility is supposed to implement.”


Going back to the financial losses, it is expected that when the final tally comes in, Caye Caulker would have lost in excess of a million dollars in revenue from the many cancellations resulting from the water and electricity crisis.


Darren Casson

Darren Casson, Vice President, Caye Caulker Business Association

“I want you guys to actually understand the impact of what this week has done to Caye Caulker as a brand, as well as to all of the shareholders in that brand.  We did a small survey of businesses and we had twenty of those businesses write back to us and the impact of just this week monetarily is the in the sixty thousand dollar range.  That’s twenty businesses.  Now when you consider there are six hundred and fifty businesses on this island, you’re talking a million dollars.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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