By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A former Cabinet minister yesterday said he is pursuing a class action lawsuit over Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) outages, and warned: “This is a straight-up consumer war.”
Damian Gomez, pictured, minister of state for legal affairs under the Christie administration, told Tribune Business that Bahamians needed to stand up for their rights and stop passively accepting poor service and high costs from their utility providers.
Disclosing that he had already obtained the backing of the hotel union, the largest private sector union, for his legal bid to secure compensation for Bahamian consumers and businesses over BPL’s daily load shedding and blackouts, Mr Gomez said he was “fairly confident” such an action could be filed within the next three weeks.
Arguing that the Electricity Act 2015 imposes “strict liability” on BPL for failing to provide reliable energy supply, Mr Gomez said the utility and its Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) predecessor appeared to have little defence given that it “seems common ground they have not properly managed their plant”.
He added that liability could also extend to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), the energy sector regulator, on the basis that it had failed to implement “the consumer protection embedded” in the Electricity Act and effectively given BPL “a free pass” over its conduct.
URCA’s chief executive, Stephen Bereaux, previously told this newspaper that the regulator had initiated a probe into BPL’s latest round of load shedding and outages some three weeks ago, but Mr Gomez yesterday argued it should have been doing much more to be “on top of” the situation.
The ex-minister blasted BPL’s refusal to compensate consumers for the disruption, damaged equipment and loss of income as “really disgraceful”, adding that utilities in other countries would have offered clients credits to their bills in subsequent months.
Revealing that he had resisted purchasing a stand-by generator in the hope electricity supply would improve, Mr Gomez added that Bahamians “should not be put to that level of expense” to acquire one.
Branding as “unsustainable” the increased maintenance and fuel costs for those forced to run their generators daily, he said New Providence’s energy crisis had become a ‘life and death’ struggle for many elderly persons due to the exposure to heat stroke, and medicines and perishable food items being thrown away after they went bad.
“I’m actively dealing with it,” Mr Gomez told Tribune Business of his proposed BPL class action lawsuit. “I’m waiting for the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce to get back to me. One of the major unions has agreed to join it; that’s the hotel union. I’m waiting for the confirmations of affiliate unions, but it’s going to be a big…