Speakers term govt’s anti-regulators move a blow to consumer rights

 

Date: December 22, 2016

Speakers at a seminar while opposing the federal government’s move to place five regulatory bodies under the ministerial control have termed the decision as a fatal blow to consumer rights and protection.

“Bringing the key regulators, like National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Frequency Allocation Board (FAB) and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA), under the fold of relevant ministries will certainly result in lack of transparency, and hence, private investment,” they said.

“This decision is akin to compromising the very idea of regulatory bodies by clipping their powers and making them toothless,” said CRCP Secretary General Abrar Hafeez, while explaining that the regulatory bodies across the globe are independent entities, which are mandated to protect and balance the interests of all stakeholders, including consumers, market actors, service providers and governments.

“How are these regulators supposed to work in a transparent and effective manner and protect consumers against monopolies and exploitations when they are subordinated to government apparatus and vested interest groups?” asked Hafeez.

He further said that the CRCP believes that the government should not jeopardise the independence of regulatory bodies for political and vested interests. “We stress upon the government to protect the interests of consumers by keeping the regulatory bodies independent from relevant ministries and giving them autonomy to check the market and the government decisions in favour of consumers,” he further said.

Dr Salman Humayun, a public policy expert and Executive Director Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS) said that the government’s decision has signalled an authoritarian move, which amounts to isomorphic mimicry of the regulatory bodies across the world.

“This [decision] will impact very badly and adversely on consumers, market actors and service providers, leading to erosion of confidence in the market,” added Dr Humayun while discussing the far-reaching ramifications of the decision.

Dr Humayun added that the government’s decision has not come as a policy prescription because the policies are implemented uniformly and across the board. “This discloses the political machinations behind due to which only five out of 18 regulatory authorities were cherry-picked in order to make them toothless.”

The participants of the meeting noted that the decision was made despite opposition from two of the provinces, i.e. Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is in violation to the Constitution of Pakistan.

“It is perceived that Nepra’s order to the Ministry of Water and Power and the Northern Power Generation Company Limited to provide a written explanation on Nandipur Power Project’s inability to produce electricity has prompted the government to take the decision,” said Hamid Masood, a public policy and regulatory affairs management specialist.

It is pertinent to mention here that Chinese contractors, working on a project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, had partially dismantled the power plant in June 2016.

“This unfolds that larger political and vested interests are being protected by putting an end to the sovereignty of regulatory bodies, which work as a defence line for consumers against government,” said Masood.

“The decision of the government will ultimately have negative impacts on the end consumers as regulators will have to bow to the decisions and guidelines of the government and relevant ministries in the matters of public interest, particularly tariff determination,” he added.

Published in Business Recorder on 22nd December 2016