T HE Royal government is $4 million behind in its electricity bill and "they have
the money, they just don't want to hand it over," says the man overseeing the
rebuilding of the electricity system.
Electicite du Cambodge (EdC) - now
in the midst of an ambitious $156 million rebuilding program that will bring on
line enough electricity to power the city by mid-1996 - is trying to collect the
"It has to happen," says Peter Rutledge, chief technical advisor
with Worley International, the New Zealand company overseeing the rebuilding of
the electricity system for the United Nations Development Programme-World Bank
Power Assistance Program.
The government - by far the utility company's
biggest debtor - owes $1.4 million for this year, and $2.5 million from
In most places if you don't pay your electric bill, the remedy is
simple. The electric company shuts you off.
EdC, which is operating under
a set of old regulations as a division of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and
Energy, lacks the power to enforce such penalties. But in the future, that may
change. Plans are underway to eventually reconstitute the EdC as a commercial
But for the moment, the situation means that in Phnom Penh,
even though the government is months behind on its electric bill, lights still
twinkle at the Royal Palace, the various ministries and government
neighborhoods, while daily blackouts rotate around much of the city.
Sieng La Presse, spokesman for the Ministry of Information, admitted that the
government is a deadbeat at paying its utility bill. "The problem today with the
electricity is collecting the money. The regular customer will pay, but the
biggest customer, the government, doesn't." La Presse said if the government
paid its bill EdC would have money for more fuel and spare parts.
of the government offices do pay, like the National Assembly. But most have
arrangements with the Ministry of Finance to pay for them. Sam Bunheng, in
charge of expenditures at the Ministry of Finance, said he is discussing the
matter with the officials of the Ministry of Industry and the EdC. The problem
goes back a long time, he said.
The government's unpaid electric bill is
very important to the EdC because the government, plus the municipality of
Phnom Penh, consume about 30 percent of all electricity. Worely's financial
advisor Peter Thorpe says EdC generates a little over $1 million a month in
sales, which have grown a bit over the past year as service improved slightly.
Just for May, the government's share of that total was $440,000.
would be financially viable if the government paid its bill," says an official
of an international lending group involved in the power program.
unthinkable to the officials involved in rebuilding all of Phnom Penh's
electrical generators, substations and distribution networks that in a years
time, when the new facilities are coming on line, the government still won't be
paying. If it doesn't pay its share, the EdC won't be able to support the new
facilities, buy fuel and spare parts and build up reserves for future repairs
So a plan is in the works that would ulitimately give the EdC
the ability to force everyone to pay, or be disconnected.
Most of the
funds for rebuilding the power stations are in the form of direct aid, but two
of the projects are to be funded by long term, low-interest loans. That gives
the two lending agencies, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, some
leverage over the situation.
Michael Kennedy, legal advisor to the
Ministry of Industry under a contract with the World Bank, said the World Bank
has not yet finalized its approval of a $40 million loan for distribution system
work in Phnom Penh (the Asian Development Bank has approved its $30 million loan
for distribution work.). The loan has caveats that require EdC to run its
business properly. Specifically EdC is instructed to collect its monthly
revenues and show that it is capable of financial planning, that it will get an
appropriate rate of return on its assets, and that it can meet its debt
"There is not much point in putting in new power lines unless
the electricity is going to be paid for by the consumers," says Kennedy. He is
working with a Washington D.C.-based lawyer to draft a series of documents that
would ultimately create a new corporate EdC with regulatory powers outlined
under an Electricity Act. The bottom line is that the new EdC would have the
powers to recover revenue it is owed.
Lenders are expecting EDC to become
a money making enterprise. Consumers will have to pay their bills or face
disconnections. The philosophy is simple, according to one international lender:
"Power generation has to make money to survive. That kind of operation cannot