Government's competency being tested

The government is facing two serious problems with potential widespread economic and social impact that will test its wisdom and competency.

  • Published: 19/02/2013 at 12:37 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

File Photo

The first problem is the energy shortage expected in April, the hottest month of the year, and the likelihood a "state of energy emergency", whose actual meaning needs clarification, will be declared to cope with the situation. 

The second is drought – an age-old problem which seems to strike almost yearly and alternate  with its twin scourge, flooding.

The energy crisis first. This was raised last week by Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn. The cause of the problem, according to the minister, is an interruption to the supply of natural gas that powers 70% of domestic electricity generation plants from two main sources, Myanmar and Malaysia. He said it will be cut by 1.3 billion cubic feet/day during the period April 4 to 12 due to maintenance work on the pipeline and rig platform. 

This translated into a loss of 4,100 megawatts of electricity from the grid, Mr Pongsak said.

The minister said he had asked Myanmar to reschedule maintenance work on the pipeline from April 4 to 12 to April 9 to 13 instead, because it would then coincide with the Songkran festival when electricity demand drops considerably because many businesses close for the long holiday.

There has been no answer yet from Myanmar, and soe people have even suggested he should fly to Yangon, or even Nypiyadaw, to personally raise the problem with the minister in charge of energy affairs there. 

Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn (File Photo)

Minister Pongsak’s dire warning of the need of a state of emergency to cope with the anticipated energy shortage has caused considerable confusion among members of the public, and aroused suspicions among green groups.

What does a "national energy emergency" really mean? An explanation was offered by Mr Sravuth Kaewtathip, acting director of the Office of Policy and Strategy at the Energy Ministry.

He said the warning was meant to send a clear message to all sectors that they should take necessary steps to prevent such a crisis from occurring. Contingency plans to switch to other fuels,  such as bunker oil and coal, to generate electricity and a possible increase in hydroelectricity production during the critical period is being considered, he said. 

But the contingency plan is not foolproof. There is no guarrantee some power plants might unexpectedly have to shut down, he said. The best prevention plan, said Mr Sravuth, is for all of us to conserve energy use.

In some ways the crisis – if it actually happens – is a blessing in disguise. It would be a painful, or at the least inconvenient, experience of life without electricity even if only for a short period; a lesson of the need to value electricity supply and use it wisely, so that we can have it for a longer period.

But green groups see the energy crisis warning in a different perspective. They suspect it is being manipulated to give a pretext for the government to push ahead with “dirty” power plant projects such as nuclear and coal-fired power plants, and with more hydroelectricity dams. 

In order to be well-prepared, the public needs to know, at the very least, when the crisis is expected and how long it will last. And to give a helping hand in energy conservation, the Energy Ministry should provide a list of how we can do it and what we should do.

More importantly, the government should set an example in leading the conservation drive.  

On to the second problem, which is drought. The only tangible solution promised by the government is to dig 20,000 water wells for some 20,000 affected villages and to distribute water jars for use in storing water distributed by water tankers. The suggested long-term measure of  zoning for agricultural production is nothing new. It was mulled over several years ago and was  never successfully implemented.

Water jars were distributed before to the same drought-stricken villages, just as blankets are  distributed to the poor rural folk every cold season. It is just a waste of taxpayers’ money and a testament of the lack of initiative shown by people in the government.

Why not dredge the beds of rivers such as the Ping, Yom and Nan - which are now drying up - and  make them deeper and wider so the rivers will not overflow their banks during the rainy season and retain water for the dry season for farm and community use, and other purposes?

Why not protect the remaining forests from illegal loggers and developers so they can serve as natural sponges to store water, so streams and rivers will not run dry during summer?

Why has reforestation – I mean real forests and not tree farms such as eucalyptus, oil palm or para rubber – always been ignored by successive governments?

About 350 billion baht is already being spent to protect Bangkok and central provinces from future flooding after the Mother of All Floods in late 2011. How effective all these floodwalls and other infrastructures will be has yet to be tested.

And now, another 300 billion baht is to spent to solve the drought problem. Judging from all the related projects mentioned,  such as digging of underground water wells and distribution of water jars, my guess is that a workable solution is still an ocean away. And meanwhile our rural folk  will just have to face the hardship of drought, as they did last year and in so many many years before.

Does anyone in government really care?

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor

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