The power and water outages across the island on Monday and Tuesday resulted in a crippling two days for businesses across the island and at least one official believes there should be compensation made to businesses and householders alike.
From those offering online and catering services, to funeral home related services, all were plunged into hours of uncertainty as the country went without electricity for as many as 15 hours, intermittently in some sections of the island.
As a result several small and medium-sized enterprises were disrupted, said Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association Senator Lynette Holder. This has prompted the official to call on the electric utility company to offer residents and businesses compensation.
“It has been a very challenging period. Light and Power has to be able to give some sort of compensation to their customers, business and residential customers, as a result of these two days. I hope that when the bills come around next month it reflects that. And most importantly they must remedy this situation once and for all,” said Holder.
She told Barbados TODAY many SBA members reported issues ranging from dropped calls, the absence of internet services, and water outages, associated with the power cut, adding that since Monday the association had been inundated with calls from members who expressed a range of fears from food supplies being spoilt to them not being able to meet deadlines.
“I have people in the food business who run the risk of losing their stock because some of the small firms unfortunately, did not have generators. And yes, that is a lesson learned and that is something they will put in place, but we have those who do the catering and the small vans experiencing serious challenges being able to maintain the quality of their stock as a result of the outages. So it has been a very challenging time,” said Holder.
“We are in an environment now where it is not necessarily the brick and mortar per se but the ability to use technology and as a result of the power outage not only was the water utility affected but telephone, and so the networks across the island were disrupted and wi-fi was down, so persons were unable to honour their commitment to their customers,” she said.
Highlighting one small printing firm that had several orders yesterday including one for a funeral service, Holder said that operator was “praying the service would be reliable today” so they could fulfil the order.
She recalled disruption in the electricity supply last week and again in August this year, saying this suggested there was something “bigger here that needed to be addressed” to avoid businesses shutting down in a service-oriented country.
She said while she agreed the bigger operators who have a base to operate from should ensure they have a stand-by generator, it was difficult for those offering services that did not operate from an office.
“Those who are in services and are on the road quite a bit they will have to find some other mechanisms that they can have that reliable supply of electricity, but the challenge is that even if they do, the problems we saw in the last couple of days, the fact that wi-fi went down they don’t have any control over that, and they have no control over water,” she pointed out.
Also calling on the telecommunication providers to put systems in place to ensure “relative reliability” during a power outage, Holder said: “They too need to invest in their infrastructure so that this does not continue. It was a crippling two days really for the business community and by extension the country as a whole.”
Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (SBA) Edward Clarke also told Barbados TODAY the wider business community was concerned about any future recurrence.
He also called on private sector operators to put contingency plans in place, using the recent experience as a wake-up call.
“I think it has made us in the business sector realize how much we need to improve our emergency supply and the business continuity plans because this is something that can easily happen to businesses going forward in a hurricane or any such event. So we must be better prepared,” Clarke warned.
Acknowledging that the Barbados Light & Power Company (BL&P) has been dealing with a variety of issues relating to its systems, Clarke said the situation also called for that utility company, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) and Government to be “better prepared” for handling these kinds of procedures going forward.
Noting that residents and businesses were paying a lot in taxes for water services and highly for power supplies, Clarke said naturally they would expect a consistent supply of both.
“It is unacceptable that in Barbados in 2019 we have to endure such, whether it is a business or the general public, it is just not acceptable. So we look for better consistent supply of power and water across Barbados,” he said.
“We look forward to a solution speedily. The private sector is willing to work in any way possible with Government and the utility company to ensure that we continue to receive the level of service we expect at this time in Barbados,” he said.
It is not immediately known how much businesses may have lost as a result of the down time, but dozens had to close their doors and send home workers, leading to a sharp decline in productivity in some sectors.
Public schools also had to close.
Clarke told Barbados TODAY he was aware the unexpected situation had negatively impacted productivity and a wide cross section of the business community.
“There is no doubt a lot of businesses have been impacted because a lot of employees were unable to go to work, and with schools closing as well, a lot of them had no facilities to keep their children. A lot of people have been impacted directly and indirectly by these outages. Additionally, you go to gas stations and you can’t get fuel. So people were unprepared for it. There has been a significant impact,” said Clarke.
“It is very hard to say how many, there are thousands of businesses in Barbados, but anybody can see that the streets were very quiet yesterday and that was as a result of people not being at work and not producing effectively,” he added.
The BPSA head said there was now concern among the business community about the level of uncertainty over the short-term impact.
“We listened to the Prime Minister’s press conference last night after the meeting with the light and power group and obviously there are issues. I think we need to get clarity around the timeframe for consistent power supply going forward. This issue is also being worsened by the water woes we continue to face in this country and it has seriously impacted business,” he lamented.
BL&P has blamed an aging plant and contaminated fuel for the break in power supply.
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