Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday called on state agencies to help lower electricity costs for consumers around the country and proposed a scheme to prevent landlords from gouging workers by fitting more rented rooms with their own meters.
At the inauguration of the 338-megawatt Lower Stung Russey Chrum hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong province on Monday, Mr. Hun Sen asked state power provider Electricite du Cambodge (EdC), the Mines and Energy Ministry and the Phnom Penh municipal government to work together to ensure landlords are not charging workers inflated electricity rates.
“If the landlords secretly supply electricity at a high cost that is different from what they paid us, we will begin connecting electricity for workers” directly, Mr. Hun Sen said.
Under his plan, he said, workers who use less than 50 kilowatt-hours (kwh) a month would only pay 610 riel (about $0.15) per kwh.
“If they use only two lights and one fan, their electricity consumption will not go over 50 kilowatt- hours,” he said.
The prime minister did not specify which workers he was referring to exactly, but focused on those living in rented rooms. He said about 150,000 workers from the provinces were presently renting about 30,000 rooms in Phnom Penh, where they pay between 850 riel (about $0.20) and 2,500 riel (about $0.60) per kwh. The state’s price ranges from 610 riel to 820 riel (about $0.20), he added.
Mr. Hun Sen did not explain how and when the plan would be rolled out, either, but said it would reach the provinces, too.
“Besides Phnom Penh, this will go to the provinces where electricity is supplied by the state and where there are also rooms for rent,” he said.
EdC general director Keo Ratanak could not be reached for comment.
However, in an interview with the Deum Ampil newspaper published Tuesday, Mr. Ratanak said EdC had plans to spend $2 million to install 40,000 electricity meters in rental rooms around Phnom Penh. He did not say when the work would begin.
“Although [Mr. Hun Sen] has asked us to do it now, we have to take more time to purchase electricity meters and electrical wiring,” he told the paper.
Some questioned the plan’s feasibility.
Many of the city’s rental rooms are occupied by garment workers near the factories where they work. Ath Thorn, who heads the largest independent union in the country, said many of those workers lack the government documentation they would require to set up their own electricity accounts with the city because they moved around frequently.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the factories, agreed that rising electricity prices were a challenge for workers but had doubts that the landlords would even let the government install meters in each of their rooms.
“I don’t know if that’s feasible,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)