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Critics slam Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou over power rate about-face

Price rises likely to follow three electricity rate hikes: Consumers Foundation

Critics slam Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou over power rate about-face

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The opposition slammed President Ma Ying-jeou Wednesday for acting too late despite his decision to postpone a planned electricity rate hike and spread it over three stages.
At a late-night news conference Tuesday, Ma announced that instead of a one-off rise on May 15, the first of three price increases would take place on June 10. The amount of the hike would total 40 percent of the originally planned rise. The second rise of 40 percent was scheduled for December 10, with the remaining 20 percent to happen on an as yet unspecified later date based on the improvements in state utility Taiwan Power Corporation’s performance.
The original plan was for a rise of about 26 percent for users in the bracket between 330 and 500 kilowatt-hours per month, or about 67 percent of households. Ma said that usage below 330 kilowatt-hours would not see any increases, leaving at least 7.56 million households with similar electricity bills as before. About 300,000 small businesses would also benefit, reports said. Under the original plan, only usage below 120 kilowatt-hours would not be subject to hikes.
Ma said he was responding to a wave of public dissatisfaction with the hike amid fears of rising inflation. His popularity ratings halved to about 20 percent since being re-elected last January.
The government’s change of heart followed the trouncing of Ma’s Kuomintang by the Democratic Progressive Party in last Saturday’s Lukang mayoral by-election, which the opposition turned into a referendum on his policies. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng was reportedly the first government official to broach the suggestion of a staged increase at a party meeting Monday.
However, critics said the president was still putting the cart before the horse by insisting on price rises before demanding reforms from Taipower. The key problem was inefficiency at the utility’s management level, and that had to be changed before the taxpayer was asked to foot the bill, the Consumers’ Foundation said.
Spreading the hikes over three stages might even be counterproductive, with price rises for other products following suit and hitting consumers three times instead of just once, the consumers’ rights group said.
The DPP demanded a public apology from Ma, and the resignations of at least Premier Sean Chen, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang and Taipower Chairman Chen Kui-ming.
The opposition said Ma’s only reason for the postponement was to avoid spoiling his swearing-in ceremony on May 20. The DPP is planning massive protest marches in Taipei for the day before.
DPP lawmaker Chen Ting-fei said that only a price freeze for electricity would help stave off more inflation. The rates should not be allowed to rise before Taipower explained what it was doing to improve its working, legislators said.
Shih told the Legislative Yuan that under the new plan, the company would lose NT$72.2 billion (US$2.4 billion) this year and NT$26.9 billion (US$922 million) next year.
Business leaders, some of whom were the first to advocate a rise in stages, said the new plan might worsen expectations of inflation. Prices of food and services from haircuts to movie tickets already showed increases over the past few weeks and were unlikely to return to their earlier level, reports said.
Ma said the new plan would allow the government to keep the annual inflation rate below 2 percent. Shih had said he would tender his resignation if the rise in the Consumer Price Index broke that level.


Updated : 2021-02-27 06:39 GMT+08:00