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Opinions of Thursday, 5 November 2015

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

How do we seek consensus on utility tariffs?

Over the past few years, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has become synonymous with the increase in utility tariffs. This is because whenever the regulatory commission has been in the news it has been to ask for an upward adjustment in utility tariffs.

Therefore, its slogan of “Protecting the interest of consumers and utility providers” seems to have been tilted to one side, with consumers constantly at the receiving end of increased utility prices.

The PURC was established by the government in January 2000 under the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) Act, 1997 (Act 538) as a multi-sectoral regulator of the provision of utility services in the electricity and water sectors.

The PURC’s mission to build a credible and sustainable utility regulatory regime that protects the stakeholders’ interest seems to be under a constant barrage of attacks, with utility providers always expressing their dissatisfaction with the tariffs charged, while consumers also decry the incessant and astronomical increases in tariffs.

Be that as it may, we do not envy the PURC’s role in playing the referee between utility providers and users of utilities because we see it as a very difficult task to satisfy both parties at all times.

Just this week, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) kicked against proposed tariff increases by the utility companies and rather asked the PURC to compel the companies to reduce their technical and operational inefficiencies and improve their services before asking for tariff review.

Students in the country’s tertiary institutions have also declared their intention to oppose any attempt to make them pay utility bills in addition to their fees, saying that it would overburden them.

The popular consensus among consumers of water and electricity is for improved services from utility providers. Nonetheless, we believe that apart from improved services being a panacea for the opposition to utility price increases, there needs to be constant publication of the investments, financial accounts, losses and achievements of the utilities in regular reports for the benefit of consumers.

Further, if paying for the utilities of state institutions has become difficult for the government, all state institutions, including health facilities and educational institutions, must be made to foot their bills by spreading or incorporating the cost in other expenses so that paying becomes less burdensome.

The Daily Graphic thinks that the government lacks the capacity now to absorb the bills of all state and para-statal institutions.

We also believe that utility providers and consumers must see themselves as stakeholders and regularly have engagements to understand each other’s posture to prevent any more standoffs. That way, a consensus would always be arrived at and astronomical increases in prices would become a thing of the past.