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Tunisia: is STEG victim of the political system or of its own policy?

Three hundred and Fifty million dinars is the amount of arrears accumulated by the Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company (STEG) following the refusal of citizens to pay their bills under the pretext of the Revolution.

Tunisians have always had trouble with their bills. STEG is on the verge of bankruptcy and it has never found the right solution to date. The number of unpaid bills is climbing to exceed, by far, 30%.

On the sidelines of the conference of members of the Union of Producers, Transporters and Distributors of Electric Energy in Africa (UPDEA) held recently in Tunis, Ridha Ben Mosbah, CEO of STEG, who was interviewed by AfricanManager, brought the following clarification on this subject:

STEG has not been paid back, as it should, how do you explain that?

The STEG has not been paid back, as it should, in terms of bill collection.

Arrears have doubled to reach 350 million dinars at end April 2012. It is the constant concern of the Executive Board of STEG. Today we are working to develop appropriate solutions especially for traders. We expect to see a burst of citizenship on the part of Tunisians to put this company, which has been faithful and honored its contracts, on the right track. It is within this framework that we call for a responsible attitude on the part of our fellow citizens and we are ready to discuss individual cases, one by one.

How do you see the solutions?

Bills have to be paid. There is no quick fix in economics! We should be aware of rising energy prices. In late 2011, the average cost per kilowatt hour was 218 millimes and it was sold by STEG at 125 millimes. Look at the extent of support provided by the Tunisian state in terms of comfort and energy use.

Fuel poverty is a global phenomenon which is not unique to Tunisia. However, we are aware of the rising bills, but this is induced by increased consumption. The average consumption of Tunisia is about 1,200 units per capita. In Africa, the consumption rate is about 4,000 units, triple that of Tunisia. But compared to South Africa, consumption equals that of Tunisia.

We must find solutions in terms of energy conservation through education of users, because there will certainly be an increase in energy prices which will follow the rise in fuel prices, more particularly oil.

How do you explain the mistrust of Tunisians toward STEG?

STEG has been identified with the political system. Unfortunately, this politically committed image has been affixed to us and was amplified by some mass media.

However, STEG has not participated in the political system. Instead, the company has fulfilled its duties. But as the citizen has identified STEG with the political system and as he refused the political system, he rejected the bill of STEG since it is a public enterprise. But I believe that over time, Tunisians will realize more and more that STEG has fulfilled its moral contract vis-à-vis the population, particularly in terms of continuity of its services.

Can this be explained by the lack of communication of STEG?

No. On the contrary, STEG has tried not to enter in a puerile argument about this issue. On June 13, on the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the company, we will organize an open day of dialogue and discussion with citizens, customers and subscribers. On this occasion, we will reveal our new strategy.

How has STEG proceeded to collect its arrears?

We have initiated a very flexible policy to collect our debts. Like all sectors, households are going through difficulties. We try to take adequate measures adjusted to these problems that emerged after the Revolution. Traders and households suffer from a higher cost of living. In this context, STEG has tried to adapt to this situation by spreading the bills. We launched our SMS services product to avoid the two dinars of late payment and reminder fees.

We are also putting in place real saving solutions for the benefit of our citizens. Every time we grant a facility, we notice an improvement in collection rates. There was a 20% improvement in late 2011, thanks to measures of rescheduling bills that were taken during the last quarter of 2011.

What are the future projects of STEG?

We launched and we will launch several projects. In 2011, we started a power plant in Gabes. We are currently building a new plant in Sousse which will be ready in 2013. The cost of this project is around 600 million dinars. We also have a plant subject of a tender which will be installed in Sousse. We will also launch a project for a plant in northern Tunisia. We also try to find a land near the region of Bizerte to meet the needs of power consumption during the summer of 2015 because power consumption increases by 1,000 MW each summer. We need to prepare for additional consumption during summer and the air-conditioning season.

Are there any messages to convey to Tunisians?

Let’s be responsible, show solidarity and overcome misunderstandings. For its part, the STEG will make all its efforts and ensure the continuity of its services. We also try to find new solutions to help households better manage energy because I do not see any other solution today than better energy management in our daily consumption.

STEG has just become President of UPDEA, what does this mean for your company?

We only chair the Executive Committee. It is a presidency of coordination, design and mobilization. This will enable us perhaps to give new impetus to the program of rural electrification and integration of renewable energy in Africa. It will also help us export the successful experience of Tunisia in the mobilization of renewable energy, energy efficiency and rural electrification as well as in several other areas where STEG has demonstrated skills.

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