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BERA kickstarts public hearings on BPC tariffs

PAULINE DIKUELO
Going up: Consumers believe the BPC is unilaterally and even secretly increasing tariffs
The Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) will hold public hearings on electricity tariffs next month, as consumer outrage continues over a recent 22% tariff increase.

On social media and other platforms, consumers have vented their anger over BERA’s decision to award the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) a tariff increase in March, at a time when the economy and households were facing a mounting crisis from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Consumers have even accused the BPC of secretly tampering with the prepaid meters to increase the rate of consumption. The BPC has instead said higher consumption rates are associated with winter demand, the tariff increase and the fact that more people are working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Government has said the tariff increase was unavoidable as the direct subsidy to BPC had decreased this year while import costs had increased significantly.

BERA tariff and pricing manager, Malebogo Bakwena told BusinessWeek that while the law did not compel the authority to hold public meetings, these would be held next month to advise on the 2021-2022 tariff request from BPC.

“The law states that BERA may (not shall) hold a public inquiry/hearing where it considers it necessary,” she said.

“The authority, however, intends to conduct a public hearing on the BPC tariff application for the financial year 2021-2022.”

The issue of BERA holding public hearings has come up frequently since the Authority’s establishment, with consumers and other lobbyists noting that while it was not compulsory, the public input could gather feedback and help consumers feel consulted in the tariff making process.

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Each year, the BPC makes a request for tariff review which BERA considers and seeks authority for approval from its parent ministry.

Bakwena said BERA has not received any formal complaints regarding the 22% tariff increase, but conceded that the Authority was aware of customer complaints that have been expressed through various media platforms.

Commenting on the issue, Richard Harriman of Consumer Watchdog, said the increase was unfair to consumers as they were already financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer Watchdog is a consumer rights and lobby group with a substantial following on social media.

“What I don’t understand is how, in the middle of a pandemic, when many of us are struggling financially, they can maintain the 22% tariff increase,” Harriman said.

“I think they should take the tariffs down to where they were, even if it’s just for the poorest sections of our community.

“Let those who use the most pay the increased tariff if they use more than the first band of cheaper units.

He further called for more sensitisation about electricity usage which he said could assist consumers to monitor theirs more carefully.

Harriman’s comments echo thoughts expressed by experts at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund who have said blanket subsidies around utilities such as electricity tend to reward even those who can afford tariffs, while making such programmes potentially unsustainable, threatening those who really need them.



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