Laos Appoints New Electricity Chief Amid Growing Panic Over High Costs

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Laos has appointed a new managing director of this state-owned Electricite du Laos energy business, replacing the prior manager amid rising anger from the nation over high prices for power regardless of increasing levels of unemployment due to company closings to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

Electricity prices have become a sensitive issue in Laos, in which individuals who were poor before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the market now chafe at elevated prices in a nation construction billion-dollar hydropower dams on its own important rivers to market power to wealthier neighboring nations.

Chanthabon Souk Aloun, a former manager of the Planning and Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, has been appointed to his new post on June 13, ” an official in Electricite du Laos confirmed to RFA this week, calling the appointment regular.

“The direction has shifted because the former manager attained retirement age in 2018,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “However, the Ministry requested him to continue for another 2 decades, since the power company has been restructured.”

The shift happened in a time once the firm has been criticized for charging high prices for electricity use, however, the official said, adding,”And this has produced a mistaken belief –which the change in supervisors was a response from the nation to firm mismanagement.”

A resident of this capital Vientiane meanwhile expressed optimism within the direction change, but much depends on the way the new manager conveys his responsibilities.

“For better or worse, it’ll depend on him. When he works for the nation and the people, things will probably be better. On the other hand, if he only works for himself and his cronies, everything is going to be exactly the same as previously,” he explained.

In 2019 Laos rated 130 from 180 countries from the yearly Corruption Perceptions Index of this graft watchdog Transparency International.

Telephone to lower costs

Most in Laos have been calling on the authorities in recent months to lower costs for power as the country expands its warmest months, with some stating their electricity prices have skyrocketed and are still continuing to grow.

“We need the authorities to reduce the purchase price of power. It is too large,” the other resident of Vientiane stated, talking to RFA on June 19. “We can not pay our bills because our wages are too low”

“Every family has seen greater energy bills,” the other Vientiane resident stated. “I’d like to cover 800,000 kip [U.S. $89] per month, but I pay nearly twice, and that I do not understand why.”

“I really don’t understand how they compute the prices. Everybody is whining. My household employs no more energy than previously. I’d love to see lower prices since I am not working at this time,” he explained.

Many Lao householders meanwhile suspect fraud at the higher prices they’ve been billed.

Power firm workers previously have recorded erroneous or inflated levels of electricity used by clients, Khen Thepvongsa–mind of the energy operations division in Vientiane–declared in a meeting with the Lao Pattana paper on May 19

Electricite du Laos currently has stringent measures in place to manage wrongdoing, however, with a decrease in pay caused by a first incident, followed by termination of employment over another crime, Khen Thepvongsa explained.

Brand New pricing policy guaranteed

Lao inhabitants this week carefully welcomed news of a restructuring of pricing policy during the next five decades to decrease charges during the next five years to get people using 151 to 461 kilowatt hours a month, using the specific speed of discount to be dependent on the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

“I will be pleased if they could lessen our yearly power prices,” a villager at Vientiane state’s Van Vieng district informed RFA on June 19.

“Last month, my bill has been over one million kip  [U.S. $110.91], and it was about 8,000 into 9,000 kip the month prior to that. I really don’t understand what it’ll be this season,” he explained.

A restaurant owner in Kham Mouane state’s Tha Khek district voiced skepticism over the guaranteed change, inquiring what the authorities will do in order to maintain its word.

“Can they really do this?” he asked. “We don’t understand the reality.”

“My bills are more costly than before, though my restaurant was closed and I am staying in the home,” he explained. “I’d like to ask the police regarding this, but they had no answers for me.”

Reached for comment, an official in the communications section of Electricite du Laos diminished to supply a date by which the new pricing plan will take effect, stating only that the issue remains under research.

Reported and interpreted by Max Avary and Sidney Khotpanya for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English from Richard Finney.


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