The Financial Express

Raising utility tariffs to be the last straw

File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected) File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected)

For the last two years, the general public were hoping that once the coronavirus is contained, they will be able to happily return to the normal pre-pandemic days. Though the hikes in the prices of gas and fuel oil as well as essential commodities including pulses and vegetables were concerning, they still believed that those were but a few post-Covid hiccups and the market would soon return to stability overcoming the disruptions caused in the communications network and the supply chain. But whatever substance there was in their hopes, the Ukraine war and its knock-on effect on the world's energy and commodities markets has finally shattered it completely. Things have suddenly turned very gloomy. After the pandemic, now it is runaway commodities, particularly foodstuff, and energy prices. True, edible oil price has become wobbly in the international market. The war will also cause to push the price further up. But the fallout from the turbulence should take some months to influence our local market. But local wholesalers and retailers are taking undue advantage of the situation creating artificial crisis of edible oil, especially of soybean oil, in the market. Volatility in the essential commodity prices severely impacts common people's lives. For their incomes are not increasing in keeping with the rise in the cost of living. So, to control the essentials price market, the government should put its foot down to discipline the unscrupulous traders.

This is an unforeseen situation in the day-to-day lives of the common people. The Ukraine war is also going to affect our food grain import from Ukraine and Russia. In fact, the war has added fuel to the flame of the already volatile energy market. This is real bad news for Bangladesh which is increasingly becoming dependent on international oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market as its own gas reserve is dwindling. Based on a study, a local think tank, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), says that for importing LNG during the ongoing fiscal year, the government will have to pay 24 times more than it does for the gas distributed from local source. Six state-owned gas distribution companies have meanwhile submitted a proposal to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) to raise retail gas tariff by 117 per cent. And the public hearing for it will be in held in the third week of this month. Also, the sate-owned power distribution companies including the Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB), have given similar proposals to the BERC for power tariff hike. And to do away with the practice of paying huge subsidies, what they said is that the government is finally going to raise energy and power price. In a similar vein, the residents of the capital city may see an increase in their monthly water bill by 50 per cent by July this year. In fact, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, WASA, has produced a similar logic of reducing a subsidy of Tk.10 per litre of water that it has to pay from the public coffer. Well, the gas and power distribution companies and the WASA have their cogent arguments for a hike in the price of the services they render to the public. But the public has only one argument-with their present incomes they are not in a position to pay the hiked up utility bills. In fact, the raised utility bills will be the final straw for a public already reeling from the unforeseen rise in their cost of living. In the circumstances, the top executives of the state-owned service-providing companies would do well to put a human face on their arguments. It is to be noted at this point that it is with the taxpayers' money that these government-owned utility companies are run and the top executives of these bodies are paid.

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