After paying his most recent electricity bill on Wednesday, Taing Heang said that the rising cost of power made him fear for the future of his children.
The 34-year-old market vendor with six children had just been told that state-run Electricite du Cambodge had formally requested permission from the government to raise its prices by 11 percent.
“Every day I pray for the weather to bring cool air. Then I do not have to switch on my fan,” Taing Heang said at the EdC billing office near Wat Phnom. “If I cannot save money to pay for school, my children will have no future.”
Phnom Penh residents reacted with unease this week to reports that a roundtable of government and EdC officials had recommended an increase in electricity prices in a bid to save the state-owned power company from bankruptcy.
“We are poor people, so we have no power to stop [the increase],” coffee stand owner Khatt Tith, 36, said outside the EdC offices.
“They raised it recently and no one cared to protest, so that is why EdC raises it even more,” she said.
After paying his monthly electricity bill of $25, Van Tha, 35, a
civil servant with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, noted that the cost was already close to his entire official salary.
“If my wife had no job, we could not afford our EdC bill,” Van Tha said.
Soy Sokha, economic adviser to Cabinet Minister Sok An, said Wednesday that the Council of Ministers would explain to the public the need for the government to raise the price of electricity. The government will announce in the coming weeks exactly how much that increase will be, he added.
EdC Director-General Tan Kim Vin said that the livelihoods of ordinary people were considered in “a proper study” and that the research resulted in the 11-percent increase recommendation.
“We care about the grassroots people,” Tan Kim Vin said, adding that unlike 10 years ago, high-ranking officials were also now required and willing to pay their power bills.
“If you don’t believe me you can come down and check their names in the computer,” he said.
Along with raising the cost of electricity for ordinary people, fighting power cheaters is another way beleaguered EdC is trying to avoid losing more money.
Tan Kim Van estimates that 13 percent of all EdC’s generated power is stolen and unpaid for, some with the help of corrupt officials.
“Recently EdC fired three staff after an inspector found they helped install a meter that counted less kilowatts,” he said.
Amid investigations into such scams—which, according to re-ports, include customers who have specially-wired meter boxes in residences and businesses that do not register electricity consum-ed by air-conditioners—residents are being investigated if they suddenly start using less power than previously, Tan Kim Vin said.
Sok Hach, president of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, said the institute will release a report next week on Cambodia’s competitiveness compared to other countries in view of the higher electricity rates. “Electricity prices affect competitiveness,” he noted.
Business leaders are also looking at the effect of the rate increase on their costs. Chris Ho, president of the Cambodian Hotel Associa-tion, said major hotels run their own diesel generators to produce power and will be immune to the EdC price increase—unlike smaller hotels and guesthouses. “The small guesthouses are going to be hit,” he said.
Garment Manufacturers Asso-ciation Secretary-General Ken Loo said the 11-percent increase will have a more long-term effect on the garment sector.
“If the average electricity bill is $5,000, are they going to go out of business over $500? No,” he said.
However, management at the LA Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, which uses EdC power instead of a generator, said they were concerned by the price hike.
“The factory already does not have enough money to pay the electric bill, so we use [power] every month until they cut it off,” said assistant manager Sou Bora.
“If we turn to use the generator, the petroleum is also expensive. We are worried, but talking about it has no effect because nobody would help us,” he complained.
Sovann Keo, finance manager at the New Island Clothing factory, said his factory switched to running its own diesel generator to produce power after a financial analysis two years ago.
The government-private sector Working Group on Taxation has been discussing the possibility of reducing diesel taxes for industry for the last two months, Sovann Keo said. (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)