The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: The energy bills conundrum

Wednesday, 7 December 2022, 09:54 Last update: about 3 months ago

On Monday, Parliament discussed a motion presented by the Nationalist Party that aimed to push the government into refunding what was “stolen” in energy bills in the past years.

The government, of course, voted against, although a formal vote on the matter is expected to be taken before Parliament rises for the Christmas recess on 19 December.

In the meantime, the Nationalist Party is urging more consumers to join it in a class court action that it plans to file in the coming days.

A court case decided last July has already ruled that two customers were overcharged because of the way their bills were calculated. The court ordered that a refund is given.

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had acknowledged, in 2018, that there were anomalies in the way the bills were calculated and had promised some kind of redress. But nothing was done under his tenure to rectify the situation. And it cannot be said that under his successor things improved much. What government has announced earlier this year was pledge a maximum €8 refund to customers in what it described as a new utility bill system. It does not do justice.

During the debate last Monday, government spokesmen were adamant in their resistance to the PN’s motion. One of the arguments made was that the system which is now under the microscope was introduced by the PN government in 2009.

So what? If something that was introduced in 2009 was wrong, why keep it going? Blaming the then government for introducing a faulty system, but then sticking to it, is an indirect admission that for the current government it is convenient to keep things as they are.

Secondly, why bring up the pre-2013 oil scandal, fossil fuels and a 100 other things that have nothing to do with the subject in hand? They were serious issues, but they were not on the agenda last Monday.

Yes, we know that the government has kept energy prices stable during the Covid-19 pandemic and since the war in Ukraine started. That’s a good thing. But it has no connection with the fact that the way the bills are computed – and this is according to a court judgment – is wrong.

The government members did their best to completely disregard the subject of the motion, and simply attempted to discredit the Nationalists for their track record in the energy sector. It was rather petty of them to do so and, at the same time, it was a tacit admission that the current system cannot really be defended.

The PN has made it clear that it will not stop here. It knows it does not have the parliamentary majority to win a vote in Parliament. On Monday it gave the government the last chance to reconsider its position and agree to take action. Now that the government has shown no intention to step back, the PN’s last option is to take the matter before the law courts.

One hopes that the wheels of justice will turn quickly in this case.

 

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