Energy ministry and regulator at odds over hiring, authorityOfficials close to the situation say that the regulator has been intentionally incapacitated by ministry officials who have issues over the selection of office bearers of the commission.
A month ago the regulator had asked the ministry to send 55 skilled workers including hydro engineers, electrical engineers, economists, IT technicians among others but the ministry responded by deploying six clerical workers leading to the dispute.
“The regulator is laden with responsibilities of forming laws to guide the power sector, but with only 14 staffers the institution is shorthanded,” said Dilli Singh, chairperson of the commission.
“We had asked to fill the vacancies temporarily such that we could move ahead with the formation of laws, monitor the electricity market and enhance organisational capacity.”
The commission which was formed two years after the enforcement of the Electricity Regulation Commission Act is intended to undertake over a dozen tasks related to enforcing electricity grid and distribution codes, determining tariff and regulate purchase and sale of electricity and enhance organisational capacity of licensed entities in the power sector.
The government has appointed five office bearers to the Electricity Regulatory Commission nearly two years after Parliament passed legislation in August 2017, paving the way for its establishment to replace the Electricity Tariff Fixation Commission.
Since then, the authority has been struggling with teething problems caused by lack of proper infrastructure, budget and workforce.
Amid delays in recruitment of human resources, officials close to the situation say that the regulator has been intentionally incapacitated by ministry officials who have issues over the selection of office bearers of the commission.
“Ministry officials wanted their henchman at the helm of the commission, but after Singh was given the top post, the officials have focused more on destabilising the institution,” an anonymous official said.
“The dilly-dallying over strengthening the regulatory body suggests that it has been formed just to show multilateral lending agencies including Millenium Challenge Corporation that Nepal has an electricity market regulator as per their demands while ministry officials fully govern the sector.”
Formation of the Electricity Regulatory Commission is one of the prerequisite clauses of the $630 million compact between Nepal and US Millennium Challenge Corporation which intends to fund electricity transmission and road projects of strategic importance.
Ministry officials downplayed the notion that there was a power-tussle and said that the regulator had not executed the formal processes on the hiring of civil servants, resulting in delays.
“It should not be taken as a ploy or a tussle over authority as there is a formal process to hiring which requires the regulator to prepare an organisation and management survey detailing its manpower needs and approve it with respective government bodies before the Public Service Commission opens vacancies,” said Prabin Raj Aryal, spokesperson of the Energy Ministry. “The commission is yet to submit the survey to the ministry which has delayed the hiring process.”
According to Aryal, the current recruitment level in the commission is in line with its requirement, which was finalised and approved in the last fiscal year and the ministry has deployed staffers in due diligence.
However, office bearers of the commission say that the regulator had asked for temporary staffers given the lengthy processes involved in the hiring of civil servants.
“We are on the verge of completing the survey, but the formal processes take up too much time as the hiring must be executed after approval of many government bodies involved which would take at least eight to ten months,” said Singh.
“A halt of ten months means we will not be able to execute our annual plans and issue guidelines on consumer protection, tariffs and other codes.”
A draft bill to amend the decades-old Electricity Act which is currently under discussion also has upset office bearers of the commission. The proposed legislation contains provisions which curtail around a dozen rights given to the regulator by the Electricity Regulation Commission Act, 2017.
As per the Act, the regulator can formulate and implement a minimum cost extension work plan to meet the internal demand and supply of electricity. The regulator can prescribe conditions for electricity trade and monitor adherence to them. Also, the Electricity Regulatory Commission can look into issues related to access for private producers to the national grid.
However, the draft bill explicitly states that these provisions of the Electricity Regulation Commission Act will be scrapped once the draft bill is endorsed by the Parliament, which has irked commission officials.
“It is wrong on the part of ministry to confer the rights to the regulator just to scrap it later.” said an anonymous official of the commission. “Curtailing these rights would pave the way for ministry officials to govern the market and restrain the commission with works limited to tariff fixation.”
When asked about the curtailment of rights, ministry officials said that the clauses were put in the draft bill to initiate a discussion on the best course to take for the development of the power sector.
“The clauses which have been proposed to be scrapped are related to long term planning and looking at the global practice, it is the government bodies that carry out tasks related to long term plans and policies, not the regulator,” said Aryal.
“There should not be a big fuss over these provisions as the bill is at a nascent stage, and the provisions can be revised after discussions with stakeholders.”