Parliament holds public consultation on new URA Bill

Leader of the Opposition Ishmael Kalsakau speaking at the Market House in Port Vila Friday during the public consultation

on the new URA Bill. MP Albert William, Government’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, is sitting behind him to his right.

By Jonas Cullwick

The final public consultation in a series on the new Bill for the Utility Regulatory Authority (URA) supported by both sides of the Parliament of Vanuatu was held at the Port Vila Market House Friday.

Public consultation for Parliament was carried out by a team consisted of MP Albert William, Special Envoy for Climate Change, and Leader of the Opposition, Ishmael Kalsakau, together with URA, Department of Water and Department of Energy to meet the people and consultant with them regarding a URA (Amendment) Bill for Parliament.

The Bill was withdrawn by Parliament on June 17, 2016 at its First Ordinary Session because Parliament wanted the Bill to go back to the people and the concessionaires especially at Lakatoro, Malekula, Luganville, Santo, Lenakel, Tanna, and Port Vila, Efate.

Lizzie Taura-Govan, URA Human Resources Manager says that in the month of July the consultation team visited the various islands concerned and held consultations with the people and on Friday it was time to consult with the consumers of Port Vila.

“They wanted the people to be aware that the new URA Bill will allow for an inclusion of an additional amount of, on average Vt0.86, on every consumer’s bill for electricity or water. “This is because in the coming years, the Government of Vanuatu and the Government of Australia will no longer financially support the URA.

“But because the URA will be there to support the long term interests of the consumers, it is only proper for the consumers of electricity and water services to financially support the Authority,” she says.

Many regulatory authorities around the world use the same mechanism, whereby they levy utilities that then pass the amounts through the Bills from consumers of electricity and water.

“Today we are so happy to see the members of Parliament, especially on both sides of the house – the Leader of the Opposition and the Government to work together to have a Bill passed in Parliament,” Taura-Govan says.

Public consultation on a Bill is a new concept for doing business in Parliament because once a Bill is passed the people will know they have an input in the law through public consultants carried out with the people.

The Leader of the Opposition confirms this concept has been agreed to in Parliament by both sides of the House that any Bill that affects people's lives has to first go to the people to get their views before it is passed by Parliament. This is a change from before when Government passed laws without consulting the people.

“All Bills that affect the lives of the people will have to the people to seek their views,” he says.

“The consultation allows the team to hear people’s views, record them, then the Bills that goes before Parliament, will as much as possible include the people’s views and wishes, he adds saying “ We have a contract, you elect me, I go into Parliament, I do what you wish me to do.”

The Leader of the Opposition describes URA as the consumers’ “policeman”, which he adds explaining that governments in the past and today have decided to set up this policeman for the consumers, and it is this policeman’s duty to keep the work of the utility companies such as the electricity company Unelco in check.

“It will check to see if Unelco is properly charging its rates, and it will deal with Unelco on behalf of consumers. It will fight for drops in rates for water, electricity and in future gas and fuel.”

The reason for the Bill is that the funding by the Government of Australia for establishment of the URA is coming to an end.

“The principle of the Bill is that because the policeman is ours, we must contribute towards the services of the office to take care of our needs.

“All of us will contribute Vt1 but at the end of the day, this Vt1 will make you save more money, for example in fuel, electricity, water, oil, and gas. So it is important that we must have an office of URA to ensure that the policeman will police those areas so that they do not overcharge us the consumers. I urged people to support the Bill,” the Leader of the Opposition says.

MP Albert William confirmed that Government will work to regulate the cost of fuel in future, “because the commodity affects the lives of the people in many ways and causes increases in the cost of living in many areas of people’s lives.”

He gave the story of telecommunication as an example. “Before the law for telecommunication, people were paying Vt5,000 for a sim card, but after opening up, now sim cards cost Vt500 and on top of that they give you free credit.”

“There is a policeman for telecommunications, a policeman for water and electricity, but there is no policeman for fuel. We have to have one.

“When this Bill comes, that will be our first question at URA. You will give us your support or not? We want you to have the power to regulate fuel. We are happy that in November this year, we will have a policeman and we will give him the task to regulate this commodity.”

MP William said that “Unelco has been in Vanuatu since 1934 in Vila and Luganville, since then we never tell them that they are over-charging ni-Vanuatu. The Government has no power to tell them, but the people do. That is why the Government set up the URA in 2008."

“Since then the first reduction in the cost of electricity came in 2010 – in Santom a reduction by 14%, and in Port Vila we also want a reduction of 14%.”

The new URA Bill will levy Vt1 on every kilowatt/hour, which means that if your consumption is 60kWh/month your old bill is Vt905, your new bill will be Vt923. The difference is Vt18, which averages out at less than Vt1 for every kilowatt hours used, MP William explained.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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