July 27, 2008

Solomons Broadcaster Warned of Disconnection Over Power Debt

Text of report by Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation text website on 26 July

The Solomon Islands Electricity Authority, SIEA, owes 18m dollars in fuel to its suppliers. Minister for Mines and Energy Edward Huni'ehu last week directed an emergency meeting with the SIEA Board and Management to discuss the matter.

In a statement, Minister Huni'ehu said the debt crisis reached this point because SIEA's fuel suppliers are paid on a hand to mouth basis. He also said that the board and management of the statutory body have failed to effectively manage SIEA. He said from now on SIEA management will be accountable to the SIEA board, while the board is accountable to the mines and energy minister.

Amongst other management control measures, the minister said the SIEA management must collect outstanding debts owing to the authority and to take action against those who fail to pay up.

In a bid to collect bills, the authority have sent disconnection warning letters to clients, including national broadcaster SIBC. SIBC owes SIEA more than 325,000 dollars [assuming Solomons dollars, approx 46,000 US] in electricity bills since January this year. In a disconnection warning letter to SIBC, SIEA says electricity will be discontinued to the station if the outstanding bill is not paid up by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, SIEA has begun disconnecting customers, including government offices, who refuse to pay their power bills. This follows an urgent meeting by the SIEA board and management to discuss the precarious financial position and the effects of the rising costs of fuel.

SIEA says the refusal of some customers to pay power bills costs them nearly 3m dollars US per month. That meant this week the authority could not pay a 2.5m US dollar fuel bill, and on Wednesday [23 July] the power was off in the capital, Honiara.

The chairman of the authority, Walton Naezon, says it's now cutting off users who don't pay their bills, and that includes government enterprises. He says SIEA is disconnecting many customers who are not paying, including some state-owned enterprises.

Originally published by Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation text website, Honiara, in English 26 Jul 08.

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