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Power-full thieves

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"

plans.

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.

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