Thursday, February 7, 2008

Consumers and Democratic Governance of Electric Cooperatives

It is amazing how the issues and problems in electric cooperatives of the Bicol Region seem to multiply itself! From the point of view of an ordinary consumer trying to be aware and to get involved in the operation of an industry that so intimately touches our daily lives, the scenario is formidable!

Nonetheless, it is also so inspiring and amazing that people wouldn't just be easily intimidated and bullied into silence. Even when confronted with the fundamental question of what right and personality do consumers have to complain and question the acts of the cooperative officials.

I will not attempt to tackle this point from the legal point of view. We have a multitude of lawyers that can competently argue for or against specific provisions in a multitude of legal instruments.

My take on this issue would be more on the political dimensions of running the cooperative. As I have previously asserted, electric cooperatives in the countryside are actually part of the remaining industries wherein people would still have legitimate claim to ownership. As such, it is supposedly among the remaining institutions wherein democratic principles, including peoples participation, would be protectd and upheld. Rational discourse and critical dialogues in the formulation of policies are supposed to be encouraged!

Unfortunately, that is not the emerging case in the governance of electric cooperatives. Ownership and control seem to have been taken away from the consumers and effectively put into the hands of a very few. Dialogue and discourse seem to have been replaced by private and confidential discussions!

The situation is not necessarily the exclusive fault of those who are tasked with the governance of electric cooperatives. It is also in part because of the pervasive silence and apathy of consumers.

Thus it is with great joy that I support those consumers who are willing to speak out and fight for their rights! Those consumers who are willing to stand up and remind the cooperative officials that their primary responsibility is the welfare of the consumers and not their personal interest nor the political agenda of their sponsors!

To my mind then, the ultimate goal is improvement of the electric cooperatives in terms of their service delivery and consumer protection. After all, the consumers remain to be the rightful owners of these cooperatives.

But the present obstacles to, and strategies for attaining this goal is as varied as the colors of the rainbow. In the end, it will be the question of which strategy will be pursued and which obstacle will persist and endure.

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