Myanmar’s parliament asked authorities on Friday to put on hold an electricity price hike following protests against the hefty and sudden increase.
Lawmakers adopted an urgent proposal demanding that the new rates introduced Nov. 1, which give most families a 40 percent increase in their monthly electricity bill, be suspended until after a parliamentary review.
The Ministry of Electricity’s announcement last week of the price hike, which affects most of the country, sparked protests by residents in the commercial capital Yangon who also demanded improvements to the national power supply scheme.
Dozens of protesters held a second candlelit march against the price hike Thursday night after six activists were charged for illegal assembly over a protest the night before.
Demonstrators complained the announcement was too sudden and the increase too sharp.
At Friday’s parliamentary session, Deputy Minister of Electric Power Aung Thang Oo said the timing of the price increase might not be right.
The ministry could have erred “in choosing the right time to announce the news,” he said.
Lawmakers raised concerns that the new rates, which are still government-subsidized, hurt local manufacturing and hit ordinary workers hard.
“Their incomes are not in line with daily expenses such as for electricity prices,” Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann said.
He condemned the action to file charges against the six demonstrating activists, who were arrested under a controversial provision known as Section 18 and later released on bail.
“It is not good to have those who protested against the plan to increase electricity rates charged under Section 18. The nation’s administrative officials and parliament should work together to resolve this problem,” Shwe Mann said.
The activists face up to a year in prison if convicted under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which rights groups have criticized as a vague provision widely used to silence activists.
The proposal to review the price hike was submitted by ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party lawmaker Aye Mouk.
Aye Mouk, who is Secretary of the Parliamentary Planning and Financial Development Committee, called for a re-examination of each of the rates under the new price scheme.
Under the new rates, households that use more than 100 kilowatt-hours per month pay 50 kyats (U.S. $0.05) per unit, instead of the usual rate of 35 kyats (U.S. $0.03).
Businesses using more than 5,000 units have seen their rates rise from 100 to 150 kyats (U.S. $0.10 to $0.15) per unit.
Surveys show most households in Myanmar use between 100 and 300 units, putting them well within the bracket affected by the increase.
Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.