Lao Citizens Charged High Rates For Power Amid Virus Shutdown

Authorities say air conditioning uses more power in the warmer months, resulting in higher bills, however.

Lao Citizens Charged High Rates For Power Amid Virus Shutdown

Lao citizens are being charged high rates for power usage, with some claiming rates are even higher than before the coronavirus outbreak, despite growing levels of unemployment due to business closings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, sources in the one-party communist state say.

Many are now calling on the Lao government to lower prices for electricity as the country enters its warmest months.

“Although our restaurant was closed last month, I still paid over one million kip [U.S. $111.20], which was the same amount I paid before the pandemic hit. I even unplugged all my refrigerators,” a resident of Luang Prabang city in northern Laos told RFA this week.

“It would be good if [the state company] lowers power prices,” the restaurant owner said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It would be helpful if the government lowered its prices,” agreed another restaurant owner, speaking to RFA from the capital Vientiane. “My restaurant has been closed for more than a month, and my income is much lower than before.”

“People are not working and have lost their income during this COVID outbreak,” another Vientiane resident said. “The government should lower the price of electricity.”

Meanwhile, a resident of Bokeo province’s Pha Oudom district said his last bill for power was even higher than usual. “Usually, I pay only about 50,000 kip [$5.56] each month. But for April I paid 100,000 kip [$11.11], which was double,” he said.

“Laos has been called the ‘battery of ASEAN, and we have so many dams,’” one homeowner said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “But electricity is more expensive here than it is in the countries that we sell power to.”

Laos and many other Asian countries are on a dam-building spree as they try to harness the power of the Mekong and other rivers. And while the Lao government sees power generation as a way to bootstrap the country’s economy, the projects are still controversial for their environmental impact and financial arrangements.

Higher bills 'normal,' official says

Laos is entering its warmest months now, and it is normal that bills for electric power will be higher, said a high-ranking official of the Vientiane-based Electricite du Laos, the state corporation that owns and operates the former French colony’s power generation, transmission, and distribution system.

“It’s hot during this time of the year,” the official said, speaking to RFA  earlier this month. “People use their air conditioners a lot, and this consumes a lot of energy. That’s why the power bills have been so high during this month.”

Laos has the third-lowest price for electricity, at $0.07 per kilowatt-hour, in ASEAN, with only Brunei (at $0.05) and Myanmar (at $0.55) charging less, the official said. By contrast, Singapore charges the region’s highest rate at $0.18 per kilowatt-hour, he said.

Some Lao householders suspect fraud in the higher rates they have been charged, however.

“Many households are experiencing rising power charges,” one Vientiane resident told RFA on April 21.

“This month, they went up from what we usually pay, at about 80,000 kip [$8.90], to about 300,000 kip [$33.36]. I don’t know why. I don’t know how they do their calculations,” he said.

“Everybody is complaining and demanding a reduction of these prices because people are not working during the lockdown,” he added.

Some power company employees in the past have recorded incorrect or inflated amounts of power used by customers, Khen Thepvongsa—head of the power operations department in Vientiane—admitted in an interview with the Lao Pattana newspaper on May 19

Electricite du Laos now has strict measures in place to deal with wrongdoing, though, with a reduction in pay resulting from a first occurrence, followed by termination of employment on a second offense, Khen Thepvongsa said.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Myanmar Strips Rakhine Politician Jailed For Treason of MP Status, Bars Him From Elections

Observers say the move will exacerbate tensions between the military and ethnic rebel armies.

Myanmar Strips Rakhine Politician Jailed For Treason of MP Status, Bars Him From Elections

Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has stripped jailed Rakhine politician Aye Maung of his status as a Lower House member of parliament and barred him from running for office, citing his conviction on charges of treason, according to state media reports.

The UEC said in an announcement dated May 18 and published on Wednesday that Aye Maung’s imprisonment negated his role representing Rakhine state’s An township in the Union Parliament and that by losing his seat due to a treason conviction, he could no longer take part in elections for any legislature in the country, based on Article 11(d) and Article 88(a) of the Lower House Election Law, respectively.

Aye Maung, the former chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), and author Wai Hin Aung were arrested in January 2018 after giving speeches at a public event in in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township commemorating the anniversary of the fall in 1784 of the Arakan Kingdom to the Burmese.

They were sentenced by the Sittwe District Court in March 2019 to 20 years in prison each for high treason and to two years for incitement, with the sentences to be served concurrently. An appeal to reconsider their sentences was rejected by the Supreme Court of the Union in January this year.

Monywa Aung Shin, secretary of the ruling, civilian-led National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Information Committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Wednesday that the move was “the Election Commission’s decision,” but said it is in line with the Election Law.

“I think he can appeal his case to the president or to top judicial officials,” he said, adding that such bans “happen in politics.”

Sai Thiha Kyaw, a Lower House MP representing Mongyai Township in northern Shan State for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), told RFA the announcement “signals the death of politics” for Aye Maung.

“This is a very strong decision against him,” he added.

Pe Than, another ANP lawmaker representing Rakhine’s Myebon township in the Lower House, noted that the charges brought against the leader of a political party for speaking in public “are far more severe than those brought against ethnic rebel soldiers who are killing one another” and suggested Aye Maung’s ban from politics could “lead to bad consequences.”

“If this trend [of targeting ethnic politicians] continues, the people will lose trust in the parliamentary system and it could end up causing much more severe armed conflict,” he said.

Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst, agreed, calling the decision “very disappointing.”

“Amidst the many conflicts and fighting in Rakhine state, this is the time to promote dialogue but instead, a Rakhine lawmaker has been removed from parliament and barred from elections,” he said.

“This is not good for Myanmar’s politics, particularly for efforts to solve the Rakhine problem.”

Calls by RFA seeking comment from the UEC went unanswered on Wednesday.

Missing villagers

Meanwhile, the family members of 20 residents of Dalet Chaung village tract in Aye Maung’s An township told RFA that they have no information on the whereabouts of their loved ones after they were detained last week by what they believe was a local battalion of the Myanmar military.

Residents of Dalet Chaung’s Alae Kyun village said an 18-year-old named Myo Hlaing, also known as Nga Pyaw, went missing after he went fishing on May 17 and 14 men aged 30 to 56 were detained after they went looking for him the following day.

“He went fishing around 1:00 p.m. but hadn’t returned by midnight, so several villagers [and family members] set out to find him at dawn,” villager Alin Kar said.

“Nearly all of the villagers from groups that searched for him on boat and on foot were detained and we haven’t heard anything about them. None of their family members have been able to contact them.”

A villager who was among nine people aboard the boat told RFA on condition of anonymity that he was the only one to escape when two military soldiers guarding the area detained the search party.

“We didn’t find Nga Pyaw—we only found his boat in the creek,” he said.

“Then, two soldiers came out of the bushes near his boat and asked where we were from. We said we are local residents looking for a lost villager. They asked us to come off the boat and stand in a row on land. I hid in the bushes and fled.”

Other villagers told RFA that all six people who had searched for Myo Hlaing on foot were detained in the area of Taung Pauk, east of Alae Kyun. They said they believe the young man was taken into custody by the military because of the soldiers who were guarding his boat.

Also on Wednesday, the family members of five ethnic Chin residents of West Dalet village, including a local school teacher named Aung Tun Khin, said they were detained by the military on May 18, but they haven’t heard from them since.

At risk of torture

Pyinnya Nanda, a Buddhist monk from the Dalet Chaung village tract area, told RFA that the military may have detained the 20 villagers over suspected ties to the ethnic Rakhine rebel Arakan Army (AA), but said they are civilians and should be released.

“I want the military officials to know that the detained villagers are innocent—they are local civilians and earn their living honestly,” he said.

“Their families are concerned that they will be tortured during interrogation. We would like to appeal to the authorities to release them as soon as possible.”

The Dalet Chaung area saw several armed engagements between the military and the AA last month.

Pyinnya Nanda said the military has since placed restrictions on the movement of residents, making it difficult for them to earn a living.

Repeated attempts by RFA to contact the Military Information Committee about the detentions went unanswered on Wednesday.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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