Electricity Tariffs: Can We Pay?
On Wednesday September 25, this year, the Public Utility Regulatory Commission (PURC) announced upward adjustments of 78.9 per cent in electricity and 52 per cent for water after considering proposals by service providers.
The increments fell short of the 166 per cent and 112 per cent requested by the electricity and water providers respectively.
Since the announcement, organised labour, as well as individuals, have expressed varied opinions about the impact of such hikes on their incomes and their lives generally. Industrial concerns have expressed their reservations about the increment because of the possible effect on their businesses.
Following the action by the PURC, organised labour convened a marathon meeting to discuss the implications of the hikes for workers. At the end of its meeting, the Trade Union Congress kicked against the new tariffs which took effect from October 1, 2013. The TUC and other bodies such as the Ghana Medical Association described the new tariffs as outrageous. They also expressed worry about the quality of service delivered to consumers prior to the adjustments.
The TUC was of the view that the approach to utility price management was unfair to the people of Ghana and a demonstration of selfishness on the part of the government.
Therefore, the TUC called on the government to stop the implementation of the charges, as workers might not be able to afford the increase, considering the low increase in salaries of a paltry 10 per cent, which took effect before the announcement of tariffs.
To give more meaning to its position on the upward tariff adjustment, organised labour gave a 10-day ultimatum beginning on October 8, 2013 to the government and the PURC to review the tariffs downward otherwise ‘aluta.’
Apparently worried by the position of labour and concerned about the already volatile situation on the labour front, President John Dramani Mahama appealed to the TUC and other labour unions to exercise restraint while an established technical committee reviewed the impact of tariffs hikes on workers.
Responding to the appeal by the President, the TUC softened its position on Monday, a day before the expiry of the ultimatum. The TUC took into consideration the impact of its intended strike on public sector productivity.
Rather, organised labour decided to ask its members to wear red arm bands and hoist red flags at their various workplaces to express their grievances, particularly at the time when the PURC did not seem to bow to the demands of the workers.
While the agitation surrounding the tariff hikes appears to be subsiding, the Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Mr Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah, has muddied the waters with his recent comment that if critics of the recent electricity tariff hikes believed the tariffs were too high for them to pay, they could try using candles.
During an interview on Citi Fm, Mr Buah said that electricity was not going to be free water flowing since it was expected to be expensive in the future; therefore, Ghanaians must face reality and accept it.
“Electricity is no more going to be some free water flowing. It is expensive; it is going to be expensive going into the future and the reality is that we must begin to understand that,” he stated.
In view of the negative reactions triggered by his comments, the Minister of Energy has eaten the humble pie. He quickly apologised, saying that he did not mean to insult the intelligence of Ghanaians by attempting to instruct them not to use electricity if tariffs were rising.
He said his words were pieces of advice to Ghanaians for the adoption of prudent use of electricity, such as turning on lights and other gadgets only when they were needed. That, in his view, could go a long way to cut down on the price of electricity.
Even before October ends for consumers to receive their bills reflecting the new tariffs, some consumers of electricity are expressing concerns about the metering of their consumption since the introduction of the new tariff.