Power subsidy deadline extended amid public anger

The government today extended a deadline for households to seek subsidies for electricity by a month as hundreds queued up for hours to submit forms.

Shops in Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo shut down today to join growing protests against the government’s decision to cut subsidies for businesses, and Gaaf Dhaal Gahdhoo council said it will now seek rent on lands leased to the state owned electricity company.

The government says the current blanket electricity subsidy benefits the affluent over the needy, and targeting subsidies will rein in expenditure and increase aid to the poor.

But many who queued up to submit forms today were unsure whether they would receive the subsidy as the government has not yet revealed the criteria for a successful application.

“I really don’t know if I will get subsidies. But I’m applying in the hope the government will be fair about it,” applicant Abdul Latheef said.

In an interview with Haveeru last week, the chief executive of the National Social Protection Agency, Mujthaba Jaleel, said that “everyone who applies for subsidy will get it.” But yesterday he said that “the criteria have not yet been set”.

Mujthaba was unavailable for comment today.

People in queues today complained of the extensive documentation required for the application, which includes rent contracts, wage details, and the number of household appliances that use power.

“This application form is a hazard. We have to get a lot of unnecessary documents. It would have been better if they set up an online system instead of making us wait in queues for hours, only to later reject my application,” Mohamed Yoosuf said as he waited in a queue.

The new deadline for form submission has been moved from April 9 to May 9, Ahmed Nihan, an MP for the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, said in a tweet.

However, the government has stood by its decision to cut subsidies for businesses, despite critics claiming the move would destroy small and medium-sized enterprises on rural islands. Some businesses say their bills have doubled or tripled.

After closing shops earlier this week, businesses in Haa Dhaal Kulhdhuffushi, Gaafu Dhaal Thinadhoo, and Addu City have set up committees to negotiate with the government.

Gahdhoo in Gaaf Dhaal asked state electricity company Fenaka to pay the council MVR 506,840 (US $39,585) for plots of land rented to the company.

“Fenaka has never cooperated with us. Once we got lights to put in the harbour area but Fenaka refused to give power. Then this issue has come up with subsidies. So we have also severed ties with them,” councilor Mohamed Shujau said.

Businesses in Vaikaradhoo are also preparing a petition after a one day shop shut down, while those on southern Fuvahmulah have already submitted a petition demanding a fair price for electricity.

Shop owners have also taken issue with the higher electricity prices in the atolls as compared to Malé City.

Electricity prices are up to 72 percent higher in northern Haa Alif , Haa Dhaal, and Shaviyani Atolls and up to 37 percent higher in Addu City and Fuvahmulaku than in Male’ City, according to figures from Fenaka.