Did Confucious say "Many hands make light work? If so, he may have had Cambodia
in mind. Many hands, it seems, are involved in keeping the light bulbs of Cambodia
burning. Many people from the salubrious offices of the World Bank, ADB, and various
international donors down to the more modest accommodation of the people in the country
making the last link to houses, shops, and factories. Yes, the "rural electrification"
project is important. Electric power is a vital pre-requisite to communications and
many micro-enterprise schemes, so it should play a vital role in "poverty alleviation"
But then, there are dangers. The "powers-that-be" could make "light
work" of lining their own pockets by keeping the power in their own hands. Here
is an actual case in point. In my area, one of the new sub-stations is "privatized",
so the private owner is free to re-sell the electricity at whatever price he determines.
The price varies but for some local people it is 900 riels per unit whereas the official
price is 350. But no matter who you talk to and despite the official letters, the
answer is the same "there's nothing we can do - just pay up!"
If only that was the end of the matter, but it isn't. I could not understand how
my little fridge, TV, and fans that had regularly consumed 25 units per month in
two different houses for two years in Phnom Penh could suddenly increase fourfold,
to 120 or more, now that I live outside the capital. So I went in search of the meter,
and discovered that our supply has been privatized once more. The "private"
owner has re-sold our custom to someone else. This explains why our unit charge is
1,500 riel per unit. And once the meter was located at the new owner's house, the
mystery about the extra consumption was apparent - extra cables and connections to
supply more "customers" through our meter! But.... "There's nothing
we can do!"
I just hope that as the electrification project gets under way, serious attempts
will be made to introduce proper regulation and consumer protection.