The main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is organising a mass demonstration in Male’ tonight to protest the government’s decision to raise electricity tariffs.
The protest will take place near the tsunami monument at 8.30pm and will call on the government to restore the price of electricity units to the rates that existed in December 2008.
At a press conference yesterday, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said “the government will be forced” to reverse the hiked rates as a result of the protest.
Nihan warned that the protest “could get heated and might be drawn out.”
Participants at the protest rally will be wearing red shirts symbolizing the “red notice” received by many citizens unable to pay their electricity bills.
Galholu South MP Ahmed Mahlouf said tonight’s protest will be “very different” and other political parties have signaled their support.
“You will see different things in this protest,” he said. “We want to leave it a surprise.”
Moreover, the party intends to continue the protest until its demand is met.
Imad Solih, vice-president of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), announced on private broadcaster DhiTV that the party will join the protest as the issue was of national concern.
He alleged that the government was “deceiving the people” about electricity subsidies to poor income families.
In a campaign rally before the second round of the 2008 presidential election runoff, President Mohamed Nasheed pledged that the price of a unit of electricity would not go up in his government.
However, the State Electricity Company (STELCO) raised its tariffs in November as part of a restructure to bring electricity charges in line with operating costs.
The company revealed at the time that it was operating at a loss of Rf320,000 (US$25,000) a day, while it faced losses in excess of Rf540 million (US$43 million) in 2008.
Moreover, it was revealed that the company had debts to the tune of US$18 million.
The government announced that the changes were part of its policy to stop providing over Rf100 million in annual subsidies to STELCO in favour of targeted subsidies.
But, in January, MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) expressed concern that the average monthly electricity bill for households had risen almost overnight from Rf545 ($US42) to Rf725 ($US56).
The MPs called on the government to broaden its criteria for eligibility to ensure that more households would be receiving assistance.
“We have to get rid of this mentality that if a house hold electricity bill is high, they are well off,” urged MDP MP Eva Abdulla. “We have to assume that it might just be 12 people living in that household, chipping in for the bill – this is the reality.”
Under the revised rates, the price of the first hundred units consumed was up from Rf1.60 to Rf2.25, while the second and third hundred units had risen from Rf .70 and Rf2.15 to Rf2.50 each.
Earlier this week, the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) announced that it would subsidise the fuel surchage in the electricity bill for low income families.
As part of the tariff restructure, STELCO decided to introduce a fuel surcharge of three laari for every eight laari increase in the price of diesel in the world market.
However, the surcharge would only be levied if the price of diesel exceeds Rf8 per litre.
Nihan said today that he doubted the validity of the procedure followed by NSPA to identify low income families.
He added that the municipality council was informed about the issue two weeks ago but no solution was found.
The MP for Vili-Maafanu further claimed that STELCO had a tank that could store fuel for three months and the reserves were purchased at “a cheap price”.
He called on all MDP MPs to join the protest tonight.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Zuhair, press secretary for the president office, claimed that the protest rally was connected to Gasim Ibrahim, business magnate and former presidential candidate of the Republican party.
Although Gasim backed the MDP in the runoff of the presidential election in exchange for posts in the coalition government, he quit as Home Minister 21 days into the new administration.
”You can see very clearly they are using Jumhoory [Republican] Party’s colour when DRP has their own colour,” Zuhair said. ”We have so far received a lot of information from local people that the rally is connected to Jumhoory party.”
On the same day the DRP announced its protest, President Nasheed formed a task force to “assist and expedite” the provision of subsidies by NSPA.
Zuhair said the task force will monitor the awarding of subsidies and identify deserving recipients.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Waheed, NSPA chairman, denied claims by DRP Vice-President Umar Naseer that subsidies were awarded exclusively to supporters of the ruling party.
Waheed said a DRP MP has been receiving subsidies from NSPA since January, but declined to reveal the identity of the opposition MP.