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Editorial:Unfair Advantages Enjoyed by The Two Power Companies

【明報專訊】CLP POWER AND HONG KONG ELECTRIC are set to raise tariffs by 20% and 45% respectively year-on-year next year. While the government is denying that it intends to downplay the tariff increases, it is resorting to a lot of high-sounding talk, threatening that a refusal to let the two companies raise tariffs might "make the power supply unstable" and "cause the power companies to withdraw from the market" as if it is scaring the public on behalf of the two power companies.

The two power companies' year-on-year tariff increases next year will break the records of recent years, adding to the already heavy financial burden on ordinary citizens and small businesses. The government is doing a poor job of safeguarding the interests of citizens. Explaining the tariff negotiations in the Legislative Council the other day, the Secretary for Environment and Ecology compared the net rate in January next year with that of this month and came up with tariff increases of just 6.4% and 5.5%, thus attracting accusations that he was misleading the public. The Environment and Ecology Bureau responded to the criticism yesterday (23 November), emphasising that it had no intention of concealing or downplaying the tariff increases. It said that, in response to the misunderstanding that might have been caused by the opening speech, it would pay more attention to such incidents in the future. It also said that there was mention of the year-on-year tariff increases in the slideshows and graphic information displayed by the representatives of the two power companies during the LegCo meeting.

The Environment and Ecology Bureau has described the controversy over "misleading the public" as "a case of misunderstanding". But still it has not provided a reasonable explanation why it failed to mention the year-on-year increases in the opening statement. In the past, when it came to the annual electricity tariff reviews of the two power companies, the increases have always been calculated on a year-on-year basis. If the officials knew that the two figures of 6.4% and 5.5% were problematic but still chose to make them a key focus in the opening remarks, it was intentionally downplaying the increases on behalf of the two power companies. If the government officials were simply reading off the materials provided by the two power companies without thinking about them, it will inevitably lead to questions about whether the government is capable of detecting the misleading tactics and does a proper job of safeguarding the public interest on the issue of tariff increases.

While some people are resorting to a numbers game and try to downplay the increase, some are employing different types of rhetoric to defend the "violent" tariff increases, which is equally outrageous. Some so-called "environmentalists" not only care about energy saving, but also are very concerned about whether the two power companies can borrow money and raise financing easily. They claim that if the two power companies "foot the bill too much" for the public, it "might affect the companies' credit ratings". The truth is that according to the current Scheme of Control Agreements, the two power companies can earn returns of 8% and make billions of dollars in profits every year no matter how good or bad Hong Kong's economy is, never needing to worry about cash flow. A member of the Energy Advisory Committee from the business sector has even said that if the two power companies do not earn the 8% returns in full, they might not be able to pay dividends to shareholders, going so far as to link the matter with Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre. People with knowledge know very well whether Hong Kong's status as a financial centre will be affected if the two power companies are not earning the full 8% permitted profits.

The current Scheme of Control Agreements will expire only in 2033. Whether the clauses can be significantly altered in the mid-term review will depend on the content of the contract. In any case, the government must grow a spine and show the courage to negotiate with the two power companies when dealing with them. In a capitalist world, there are not many businesses that earn "guaranteed profits" like the two power companies do. It is doubtful whether the power companies will be forced to leave the market if the government stands firm on the issue of electricity tariffs.

明報社評 2022.11.24:兩電坐享利潤保證 社會責任不成比例

中電港燈明年加價,按年加幅分別達到兩成及四成半,政府這邊廂否認有意淡化電費加幅,那邊廂卻誇誇其談,揚言不容加價「或令電力供應不穩」、「電力公司可能退出市場」,儼然在幫兩電恫嚇市民。

兩電明年電費按年加幅之高,打破近年紀錄,小市民小商戶百上加斤,政府把關乏力,環境及生態局長日前在立法會交代電費磋商事宜,將明年1月中電港燈淨電費與本月水平作比較,得出加幅僅為6.4%與5.5%的數字,更被質疑誤導公眾。環境局昨天回應批評,強調並無隱瞞或淡化電費加幅之意,對於開場發言「可能」引起誤會,往後會多加留意,同時又指會上兩電代表所展示的投影片及圖表資料,有提及按年加幅。

環境局就「誤導公眾」一事,說成是「一場誤會」,惟始終未有就開場白「談月不談年」有合理解釋。兩電每年電費檢討,以往都是計算按年加幅,如果官員明知6.4%與5.5%這兩組數字問題所在,仍然選擇在開場白作重點報告,等於存心幫兩電淡化加幅;如果只是按兩電提供的材料,照本宣科,不假思索,則難免令人質疑,當局是否有能力看清誤導手法,在加價問題上好好為市民把關。

有人玩數字遊戲,試圖淡化加幅,一些為兩電暴力加價護航的說法,同樣令人側目。有所謂「環保人士」不止關心節能慳電,還非常關心兩電能否容易借錢融資,揚言兩電如果幫市民「墊支太多」,「或會影響公司信貸評級」,儘管根據現行利潤管制協議,不管香港經濟好壞,兩電都可賺取8%回報,年年獲利數以十億元計,從來不愁現金流。有來自商界的能源諮詢委員會人士更稱,如果兩電不賺盡8%回報,可能無法向股民派息,並將事情與香港作為國際金融中心扯上關係,云云。兩電不賺盡8%准許利潤,會否影響香港金融中心地位,有識之士心裏有數。

現行利潤管制協議2033年才到期,中期檢討,能否大幅更改條款,仍要看合約內容。無論如何,政府跟兩電周旋,必須挺直腰板,敢於叫價。資本主義世界,沒有多少生意像兩電般「包賺」,政府在電費問題上為民企硬,是否真的會逼到電力公司「退出市場」,叫人懷疑。

/ Glossary生字 /

safeguard:to protect sth/sb from loss, harm or damage; to keep sth/sb safe

grow a spine:to become confident or courageous

stand firm:to be determined

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