Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is Kathryn's legacy on the balance?

Kathryn Hall is the name of the young American volunteer who witnessed a botched c-section operation in a rural Gambian hospital due to lack of electricity that inspired her into action; the result is "Power Up Gambia" (PUG) that harnesses the sun to generate electricity for rural health centers.

The Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH), named after Yaya Jammeh's father, where the botched operation took place was the beneficiary of the transformation of a fuel-based to solar-based electricity supply grid.   The old batteries in the system had to be replaced and the gas oil-driven generators were expensive and inefficient to run and maintain.

According to those familiar with the project, Phase I of the project went very well which led to the preparation of Phase II of the project which proposes to significantly increases the electricity generating capacity in excess of the immediate needs of of SJGH.

What to do with the excess is what appears to be the issue that faces the new management and Board of Power Up Gambia.  Kathryn, the initiator and inspirator of the project has since moved on and so has the membership of the original Board.

The previous Board of Power Up Gambia moved cautiously and purposefully on how to utilize the excess electricity that Phase II of the project will yield because the sustainability of this very important project, which has been successful up to this point, depends on the collectability of the anticipated revenue generated from the excess electricity generated.  We hope that cautious approach is maintained, however difficult the environment.

The CEO of the SJGH was quoted in the official newspaper of the government that the "management of SJGH wants to sell electricity to NAWEC through our third project called 'banking scheme', and we have now finalized some kind of relationship with them."  According to him, SJGH plans to connect to the national grid to make it possible to supply electricity from Mandinaba to Kalagi. Revenue generated from this is estimated at D 48 million annually.

When contacted to express our concerns, the Executive Director of Power Up Gambia, Lynn McConville assured us that "we are investigating the potential of utilizing solar power as a revenue generation opportunity for hospitals under the 2013 Gambian Renewable Energy Law."  The Executive Director has also assured us that discussions are ongoing that involves NAWEC and the IMF among other relevant agencies.  Thus according to Power Up Gambia's McConville, "no final agreements are in place at this time."

We agree with PUG that the potential exist for renewable energy to advance agriculture, which was what we suggested as possible sector intervention, we are extremely concern able the 'banking scheme' described, however imprecise his description, that involves partnering with NAWEC - an institution that is effectively a bankrupt public enterprise.  How much does central government owes NAWEC?   It runs in the billions of dalasis.

We owe it to Kathryn and to the Gambian rural population to ensure the sustainability of the project which is the challenge facing the management and the current Board of Power Up Gambia.   Staying true to the Mission of PUG is reassuring especially when the assurances are coming from none other than the Executive Director of Power Up Gambia.