Frequent power cuts that hurt consumers
Frequent power cuts are usually associated with Third World countries struggling to build a solid infrastructure to support their economic ambitions. Malta is no such country and its economy can hardly be described as developing.
Yet power cuts have become too frequent, much to the frustration of businesses and other long-suffering consumers who cannot choose where to procure their energy services.
This summer, many areas in Malta experienced repeated power cuts that have cost businesses substantial amounts in lost trade. Families with senior citizens and young children had to cope with long stressful periods when they could not even use a fan in the scorching heat that has characterised the summer.
These cuts have become so frequent that they hardly make the media headlines. Be that as it may, such outages should not be happening in a country that is projecting itself as a haven for investment and a paradise for tourists.
Even more remarkable is the attitude taken by Enemalta, the state monopoly that provides energy services in this country. Whenever a power cut occurs, it is usually slow to explain why its customers have to suffer the consequences.
The best reaction it can come up with is to inform the public that it intends to launch an inquiry. This is simply not good enough.
Energy consumers in Malta are paying electricity rates that are among the highest in Europe. Yet they have to make do with a service by Enemalta that leaves much to be desired.
The political masters of Enemalta try to shift responsibility for the power cuts to the management on grounds that power failures are really an operational issue. But common sense and principles of good governance of public services clearly indicate that when a monopoly service provider fails its customers, responsibility must ultimately be shouldered by politicians.
Enemalta has been mired in controversy for more than a decade. Lack of adequate investment has resulted in a stuttering energy generating and distribution infrastructure.
The Marsa power station that was scheduled to be decommissioned years ago is still belching poisonous gases and causing health problems for the heavily populated towns located in the vicinity.
When new investment for the power station in Delimara was finally approved, the purchasing process as well as the technical aspects of the chosen equipment raised doubts as to how beneficial this expensive investment will really be.
Consumer protection is at the very core of the EU’s mission. Many countries take this mission very seriously and regulators impose tough penalties on service providers that short-change their customers. Serious resources regulators should not be more lenient with services providers that enjoy monopolistic or dominant position advantages in their market.
Yet in Malta, do we hear of the resources authority defending the customers of Enemalta which is frequently failing to provide an adequate level of service?
Whether the root cause of the frequent power cuts is the result of lack of sufficient investment in the past, or the consequence of operational mismanagement by Enemalta, or a combination of both, the government should inform the public how it intends to address these serious failings of the energy provider.
The time for hollow apologies and inquiries is over. It is time to treat energy consumers with respect. Politicians must stop hiding and start acting.