Will B.E.L. become government owned if the country is covered in darkness?

After Wednesday’s press conference in which Prime Minister Dean Barrow dropped the bombshell that he might have to consider nationalizing Belize Electricity Limited, the nation has been on edge on both the possibility of blackouts and the effects on investors’ confidence if another company is nationalized. B.E.L. has been unable to meet debt obligations or pay dividends because the utility company claims it has been losing money since the P.U.C. denied a rate increase and the price of fuel is keeping operation costs high. A critical meeting is set for this Friday between the prime minister and B.E.L. C.E.O., Lynn Young, from which government may arrive at a decision on whether or not it will take control of B.E.L. Here’s an excerpt of what the Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

This government, the party now in government, was always ideologically opposed to the privatization of essential resources. So wherewithal apart—as a matter of philosophy and conviction and what we think is right—we believe that the people of Belize should own B.E.L. We believe that the people of this country should own B.T.L.; we believe that the people of this country should own Belize Water Services. That is a philosophical, ideological conviction if you will.

If we could wave a magic wand or snap our fingers to get back B.E.L. thereby, we would do it immediately. We know, especially if you are talking about a bankrupt company, that it would be a hell of a challenge going forward, but we would be left with no alternatives to secure the interests of people and we would also be doing what we inherently believe is correct—have the government and people of this country own the essential services. In terms of compensation, I am telling you that we are going to sit down and have what I hope will be an amicable meeting with Lynn Young. I am not telling you that government is looking to nationalize by force B.E.L. at all. So, the hard place in which B.E.L. finds itself with respect to the P.U.C. in my view is principally of its own making. But if B.E.L. can’t get money to pay for energy, then it seems to be that B.E.L. is on the brink of becoming non-operational. And I am saying to you ladies and gentlemen that the government of Belize cannot have that happen. I will try to report again to you as quickly after that meeting on Friday as I can. There are at the margins, so Mexico is threatening to cut us off again. Government is prepared to prepay another couple months of electricity bill—four million dollars—and that will buy us twelve days or so. And it is my promise to the Belizean people that within that twelve days a solution will be found.”

Today, all over Belize, many questions are being asked: Will B.E.L. be able to pay its mounting debts? Will the government continue to prepay its electric bills to ease B.E.L.’s cash flow? Will there be rolling blackouts? Would the P.M. dare to nationalize yet another private company? B.E.L. has warned that the company, due to high fuel costs and litigation with the P.U.C., may be unable to make payments to its main power supplier in Mexico, the Comision Federal de Electric to which it owes eight million dollars. The outcome of the much anticipated meeting could determine if Belizeans must prepare for rolling blackouts in the near future or the nationalization of yet another large company by this government. We’ll be monitoring developments closely.

Channel 5