Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on Wednesday ordered the country’s Ministry of Energy and Mines to investigate and address recent public complaints about skyrocketing electricity rates and ensure that consumers who have been overcharged receive compensation.
The notice ordered the ministry, which owns and operates the country’s main generation, transmission and distribution assets, to cooperate with relevant agencies to inspect technical standards and address public complaints about a recent surge in electricity rates.
Thongloun also told the ministry to investigate the causes of the rate hikes, correct erroneous charges, and reimburse households that were overcharged because of any fraudulent acts or errors by Electricite du Laos employees.
“The Ministry of Energy and Mines is assigned to explain and confirm the government’s correct and transparent policy on energy development and use in order to ensure that people’s livelihoods are
The ministry also must lead Electricite du Laos—the state corporation that operates the former French colony’s power generation, transmission, and distribution system—in inspections of the company’s staff performance to ensure employees are assigned appropriate duties that will prevent wrongful rate increases in the future and punish any wrongdoers, the president’s order said.
“Electricite du Laos is assigned to establish a center for public complaints on electricity issues and to send officials to clearly inspect each case with a high commitment to guarantee fairness and transparency for consumers,” it said.
“The Ministry of Energy and Mines is assigned to study and adjust the electricity rates in accordance with economic standards and national development and submit them to the government for consideration,” it added.
On the same day, Sisavath Thiravong, director general of Electricite du Laos, publicly apologized to consumers for some of the company’s employees making mistakes in the calculation of electricity rates and amounts consumed.
“We are committed to providing better services and safe standards and quality to you [consumers],” he said. “Electricite du Laos has informed its staff throughout the country to address the problems in the areas where people have complained, which is expected to be completed within six months.”
Electricity prices began jumping in May following a regional heat wave that saw temperatures reaching unprecedented levels the month before, causing prices in some areas to more than triple.
Though record heat often pushes up electricity rates as demand increases, consumers in the impoverished nation have complained heavily about rates being exorbitantly higher than usual and raised questions via social media about possible price gouging. Many also questioned the rate spikes at a time when Laos continues to build hydropower dams to generate power.
Local media have run several reports about people who received excessively high electricity bills in May from Electricite du Laos.
One report said that a consumer received a monthly electricity bill for as much as 66 million kip (U.S. $8,140) in May, although he normally pays about 200,000 kip (U.S. $25).
Initial inspections by electricity authorities have found that nearly 50 electricity bills charging such high amounts were printed incorrectly, according to a report in the Vientiane Times.
“Three levels of electricity rates have been found to be inappropriate, and they resulted in negative impacts on standards of living for those who have low and mid-level incomes,” Sisavath said.
As part of the remedy, Electricite du Laos will create five rate levels, instead of using the current three to ensure consumers are fairly charged based on their living conditions and economic circumstances, he said.
“[The plan] is being reviewed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.