Competition is the answer

Editorial, Normal

POWER outages are an occupational hazard of doing business in PNG.
So says the executive who is trying to sell PNG as a destination for investment to the global community.
PNG is a great place to invest but downplaying the part that unreliable power supply costs businesses is dishonest.
Indeed, for those that do invest in PNG and for those who have no choice but to live here, intermittent power outages are a source of great expense and loss of business.
Investing in backup power, in uninterrupted power supply units, and in power guards might be options in some parts of the world.
In PNG these items are an essential cost of doing business.
It is unimaginable for us at The National to operate without a backup generator. Without it, there would have been numerous times when there would have been no newspaper on the streets simply because of power outages.
Almost every other business in Papua New Guinea has to have a backup generator.
If a class action were to be taken against PNG Power for loss of business or damage to electronic and electrical goods, the wholly-owned State enterprise would be bankrupt inside a year.
It would be difficult to estimate just how much in electrical and electronic equipment has been lost as a result of power outages or power surges.
Some of the power surges are so massive they rip through power guards to blow up power boards of sensitive equipment.
Apart from loss of expensive equipment, loss of production as a result of interrupted work flow is immeasurable.
One power surge which seemed centralised in the Waghi Valley in December 2008 took out every computer, television set or other electronic gadget that was connected to a power socket.
Estimates ran into well hundreds of thousands of kina. While costs were put to PNG Power, we are uncertain whether or not all persons who lost equipment have been compensated.
Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce president, Mr David Conn, said once that he had to operate out of a hotel business centre for 26 weeks during intermittent power outages.
This is no way to conduct business anywhere.
Anywhere else this farce would not be tolerated. The entire board and management of the power supplier would be sacked.
Power outages throughout the country are getting worse. And it is not a matter of luck.
The infrastructure that has been built to support a small population of some 40,000 people in the National Capital District, for instance, is now having to cater for 300,000 plus.
Much of that infrastructure dates from the 1970s, with little or no maintenance so normal wear and tear on power lines, poles and other infrastructure has rarely, if ever, been attended to.
While the Government concentrates its resources on transport infrastructure, power generation and maintenance of power infrastructure appears to have fallen by the way side.
The aggregate cost to the economy of lost production, damaged electronic goods, purchase and maintenance of backup power supply units is substantial.
Put another way, if interruptions to electricity supply were not as frequent as they are now, the economy would be far better off than it is at present. Cost of doing business would be lower.
What makes it doubly frustrating is that nobody, not board members, not management, not the public affairs office of PNG Power, is coming forward to explain what exactly in the cause of the power outages.
Any concentrated class action against PNG Power Ltd, were it contemplated and even taken up, stands a good chance of winning. This is because loss due to power outages is measurable. Power outages are so frequent that “accidents” as a defence in court would be laughable.
It is time the Government took serious stock of the power situation in the country. If PNG Power Ltd has capacity problems, perhaps it is time to bring in other power suppliers to help out.
We can suggest, for instance, that a tender should be let for expressions of interest for supply of power to towns outside the Yonki power grid such as Wewak, Vanimo, Kimbe, Kokopo, Rabaul, Lorengau, Kavieng and Buka. This will allow PNG Power to concentrate its resources on improving electricity supply in the capital and to those towns connected by the Yonki Hydro power scheme.
If PNG Power Ltd cannot improve services at that point, direct competition should be introduced in these centres as well.
Competition, as we have seen with the telephony business, is sure to wake PNG Power up.