Cyprus Mail

You will go dark, EAC warns tardy paying councils

By Elias Hazou

THE ELECTRICITY AUTHORITY (EAC) on Monday defended its warning to Limassol local communities to cut off power to public facilities unless they pay their bills on time.

The communities are up in arms over what they perceive as raw blackmail from the power utility. A number of community leaders say the EAC is threatening to cut off power to public buildings and parks – for which the bills have been paid – for outstanding debts on street lighting.

Hitting back, Lefteris Perikli, head of the union of Limassol municipalities, indicated they would stop payments altogether should the EAC make good on its threat.

But in this game of chicken, it would seem the EAC has the upper hand. Already it has fired a couple of shots across the bow, cutting power to public facilities in Pano Polemidia, while recently the council building of Moutagiakka was left in the dark. Again, both these communities had settled their accounts for the same public facilities but not for the street lights.

Panicos Charalambous, community leader of Finikaria village, with a population of about 400, told the Mail the EAC has repulsed any efforts at a workaround.
As many as 33 communities in the Limassol district face similar problems, he said.

The EAC says it has not cut power to street lights – yet – out of public safety considerations.

Spokesman Costas Gavrielides mused whether it is blackmail to demand payment on time for a service.

He said the utility reserves the right to interrupt electricity for any account held by a customer, regardless of whether the customer has settled any of the accounts.

The point is contested by the communities, who counter that each electricity account is governed by a separate contract with the EAC.

Plans to ask the Attorney-general to weigh in have fallen by the wayside, because apparently only state entities or officials – which local communities are not – are allowed to request a legal opinion from the AG.

What’s more the law seems to be on the EAC’s side on this. The Electricity Law states that the power utility may switch off all electricity to a customer if the latter has failed to settle any outstanding debts.

Legal squabbling aside, the communities insist the EAC is playing hardball. According to Finikaria mukhtar Charalambous, in a bid to reduce their hefty electricity bill, they have even proposed reducing the number of street lights by disconnecting some of the lamp posts.

The suggestion has hit a brick wall with the EAC and has been lost in red tape, he said.

Another mukhtar, who preferred not to be named, said that when in desperation they told EAC officials to go ahead and cut off power to street lights, the EAC people snickered and said “Oh no, we’re going to hit you where it hurts” – meaning the public buildings.

Communities say they simply cannot cope with electricity bills. In the past, the government used to fully subsidise their street lighting. But as the state itself is cash-strapped, over the last three years the subsidy – in the form of a rebate – has been slashed from 85 to 49 per cent.

Moreover, there’ a two-year delay in the payment of the government refund.

“I know some mukhtars who have dug into their own pockets to pay electricity bills, that’s how bad it is,” Charalambous said.
“Because of the economic crisis, our revenue stream is running very thin,” he added.

For its part, the EAC says it too is feeling the squeeze and has no choice but to collect. As of June 30 this year, the utility had amassed some €50m in overdue bills. Of these, €34m relate to active accounts, of which €17.5m is owed by hotels, factories and shops, around €12m by residences, €2.3m by government agencies, €1.4 by municipalities and another €1.4m by communities.

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