PUCSL: REGULATING FOR SUCCESS

Providing Sri Lankans with essential infrastructure services in an efficient and effective manner is the key driver for the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). While a regulator’s role can always be demanding, PUCSL has played a significant role in managing Sri Lanka’s infrastructure and utility interests effectively and economically

Overseeing safety, economic and technical regulations of the electricity industry, with water and petroleum soon to be included under its purview, PUCSL is dedicated to maintaining a fair, balanced and transparent process through public consultations. PUCSL Chairman Saliya Mathew, Director General Damitha Kumarasinghe and Director of Corporate Communication Jayanat Herat spoke to Echelon on the need to regulate more industries, and maintain a healthy balance between stakeholder views and public needs.

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Saliya Mathew Chairman

What role does ‘public consulting’ play in regulating utilities?
Saliya Mathew: Consultations enable us to determine if the public is in favour of certain measures before we implement them. Furthermore, public input enables us to set standards on mutually agreed upon timelines. For example, we recently introduced the national standard for plugs and sockets and consulted people from all aspects of the industry, such as importers, sellers, manufacturers. It was a fair, comprehensive process, and resulted in there being no protests or public outcry against our reforms – because of the consultations, transparency prevailed, decisions will be accepted by the public and the transition will be smooth.

Damitha Kumarasinghe: The PUCSL Act says that the Commission needs to get the views of affected parties before arriving at a decision.

Issues can be varied. Therefore, all issues need to be captured before making or providing solutions through regulatory mechanisms like regulations, standards, methodologies or guidelines, and so public consultations play a key role in decision-making.

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Damitha Kumarasinghe Director General

The consultation process is rigorous and far-reaching. Previously, we used to have consultations only in the Colombo district. However, since we wanted to increase our feedback base, we focused on reaching the outstation areas as well.

We have conducted around 12-15 consultations in all the provinces covering areas like Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Kandy, Mannar and Batticaloa on street light management, consumer issues in electricity, water services and petroleum industries. More than 7,000 people attended these consultations, which enabled us to acquire a broad spectrum of opinions. This shows public interest in participating in the decision-making process. These consultations were conducted in Sinhala and Tamil.

The input of our stakeholders helps us to make effective regulatory decisions to better serve public requirements. The full document of the latest round of consultations will be released in March.

What are the steps involved in conducting a consultation?
Jayanat Herat: It starts with identifying common issues related to utilities under our purview and drafting the necessary regulatory tools. We also have discussions where stakeholders share their concerns. Last week, we had a discussion with the electric vehicle owners association about the main issue affecting them – the availability of a wide network of charging stations.

The consultation process is rigorous and far-reaching. Previously, we used to have consultations only in the Colombo district.

Then, we invite all stakeholders and collect written comments, proposals and verbal arguments on the proposed tools. If they want to comment further, we hold an oral public consultation where people gather and are given a chance to voice proposals to the draft regulatory tools. Finally, we have internal experts who analyse, study and compile the comments and amend the draft regulatory tools as necessary. With the Commission’s approval, these regulatory tools will be implemented.

Every consultation is backed by a comprehensive decision document that provides the commission’s view on every view expressed by stakeholders, and through that, we manage to address all their opinions.

The beauty of public consultation is that different stakeholders with different interests will sit together and listen to the concerns of other stakeholders.

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Jayanat Herat Director of Corporate Communication

How do you balance individual stakeholder views and public needs? Are there conflicts between the two and how are these resolved?
Mathew: We have to consider multiple stakeholder opinions. So, it is important for the commission to understand each view. Consultations provide an open forum where they can understand each other. The commission identifies and analyses all views and provides a conclusion. If the commission agrees or disagrees with what is being proposed, it will provide reasons.

What are some of the industry standards that have emerged through consultations?
Mathew: We have introduced new standards for electricity quality, continuity and safety. We have also set up standards for customer service. For instance, we’ve helped ensure that new electricity connections are set up quickly; introduced new, more efficient procedures for meter readings, changing meters, bill payments, disconnection, reconnections; and announced plug and socket standardisations and electrician licensing processes.

Kumarasinghe: A regulator does a very important role in a monopoly or duopoly environment by involving stakeholders in the decision-making process. We are also in the process of engaging other state institutions in the consultation process, which will help to implement the decisions taken in an effective manner