Cabinet Ministers have failed the consumers in their confused and contradictory reactions to the five-state four-hour power blackout on Monday

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Wednesday): Cabinet Ministers have failed the consumers in their confused and conflicting reactions to the five-state four-hour power blackout on Monday. 

On the one hand, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that the affected consumers in the five states affected by the power outage, i.e. Penang, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan (whose manufacturers have reported losses of between RM20 million to RM30 million to date), could sue Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB)  for compensation, while on the other hand, the Minister for Energy, Communications and Multimedia, Datuk Leo Moggie said TNB would not pay any compensation to the consumers. (Nanyang) 

The failure of Parliament to address the five-state four-hour blackout on the first day of its 40-day budget meeting yesterday was also a great disappointment. 

The US Congress and the United Kingdom  Parliament were both in summer recess when the United States East Coast was  hit by a mammoth power blackout on August 14 and London was brought to a standstill by  an half-hour power blackout last Friday. 

But when the US Congress and the UK House of Commons reconvened, their respective  power blackouts were top  of their parliamentary agenda.  In the United States, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is  now holding hearings on the August 14 blackout with Ohio Governor Bob Taft giving  advance notice that he would be urging federal lawmakers to pass a responsible energy bill that,  among other things, includes mandatory reliability standards. 

Taft said the August 14 blackout should serve as a “wake-up” call and actions must be taken that result in an electric transmission system that people can rely on to power their homes, their offices and their communities.

In  the UK, the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry has scheduled  hearings on Sept. 16 to cross-examine the senior executives of the London power company for the half-hour blackout in London last Friday. 

In the past few days, the British newspapers have published screaming headlines like Grid may face fine for London blackout”,  “Grid faces £1bn London blackout fine”, Bosses to pay for power cut fiasco” and “MPs quiz energy bosses on London blackout”.

This is because in the United Kingdom,  TNB’s counterpart, National Grid, faces a fine of  up to £1 billion as under its licence, it  has  legal obligations to maintain the power grid to the required standard or face a punitive levy of a financial penalty of ten per cent of the company’s annual turnover of £9.4 billion.  

TNB should also be required to meet legal  obligations to provide power supplies to the consumers to the  required standard,  triggering financial liabilities,  penalties and compensation in the event of any short-fall of such a standard.

In the United Kingdom, there is the further provision where the  pay package including bonus of the chief executive and directors of National Grid are geared to the ability of National Grid to deliver power around the country.  If an inquiry concluded that a power blackout was the fault of management, the chief executive and directors would lose out financially – running into millions of pounds sterling or tens of millions of ringgit.

There is no reason why the remuneration and/or bonus of the TNB Chairman, Awang Adek Hussin, the president and chief executive officer Datuk Pian Sukro  and TNB Directors should not be similarly made liable for any failure to provide uninterrupted power supply, whether because of negligence or mismanagement.

Parliament should not lag  behind the US Congress and UK House of Commons on the power breakdown issue and should place  the five-state four-hour power blackout on Monday top on its parliamentary agenda not only to find out its causes but also for the country and TNB to learn the proper lessons from Monday’s blackout as well as the US and London power outages to ensure a outage-free power supply in Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman