Authorities in Myanmar have decided to scrap plans to raise electricity rates following a plea from parliament and public protests over the abrupt increase and steep new charges, a senior official said Tuesday.
Minister of Electric Power Khin Maung Soe told a parliamentary meeting that the hike in rates effective November would be postponed until the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
"We will charge new electricity rates in the 2014-2015 fiscal year," he said, citing demands to review the implementation of the new rates by lawmakers, manufacturers, and the public at large.
Myanmar's 2013-2014 fiscal year ends on March 31 next year.
Under the proposed increase, most families would have faced a 40 percent increase in their monthly electricity bill.
Residents and activists staged protests last week in the commercial capital Yangon while lawmakers and local manufacturers criticized the timing of the move.
Parliament had approved a motion on Friday prodding the government to reconsider the rise pending a review by lawmakers.
New power plants
Khin Maung Soe also said that the government would plan to build new power plants to expand electricity coverage.
"If we don’t do this, the nation will face difficulties until 2020," he said. "We have electricity now because the previous government built power plants using international loans."
The Ministry of Electric Power is to also conduct a public opinion survey on the proposed hike, with the results of the polling to be reported to parliament, Khin Maung Soe was quoted as saying by MRTV, the state-run national TV and radio station, over the weekend.
He said the decision to increase the rates was made in order to cover rising costs of power production and to help fund an expansion of coverage, which remains low.
“We want to provide more electricity lines and power supply for those who are paying electricity bills that are much higher than those in other cities, and we want electricity to be accessed by all states and regions in the country equally,” the minister was quoted saying by the Irrawaddy online journal.
According to data from the Ministry of Electric Power, only about 30 percent of the country’s population is connected to the national electricity grid.
Lawmakers had raised concerns that the new rates, which are still government-subsidized, would 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 had said.
He also condemned the government action to file charges against six demonstrating activists, who were arrested under a controversial provision known as Section 18 and later released on bail.
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.
Under the proposed hike, households that use more than 100 kilowatt-hours per month had to 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 would see 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 Myint Oo for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.