Thursday, 23 January 2014

Chamber meeting tackles power, SME issues

NAGA CITY: The Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry marked its first board meeting for this year by putting on the table two important concerns that seek to address: (a) the small entrepreneurs’ desire for more government assistance in improving their plight, and (b) the call for consumers’ solid front against the excessive power rates being imposed by local electric cooperatives.

Before formally proceeding with the board’s agenda during its first meeting held at the MNCC boardroom at GIP Bldg, the board, thru its president, Nicolas Beda Priela, gave the floor to DTI Camarines Sur Provincial Director Edna Tejada who has been invited to update the chamber of her office’s prospects for 2014 and beyond.

Tejada disclosed that with the abolition of the lawmakers’ pork barrel, otherwise known as PDAF, and the introduction of so-called grassroots budgeting by the Department of Budget and Management, the entrepreneurs themselves, or the ordinary stakeholders, through their respective organized groups and specific sectors will now be more empowered to identify, endorse and monitor projects for funding and implementation, as well as technical assistance by the government.

Tejada reported that in the year just past, the local DTI office had provided several drying equipment for fish processing entrepreneurs in Tinambac, Calabanga, and other coastal towns along San Miguel Bay in Camarines Sur. 

She also disclosed that some 100 small-scale entrepreneurs in San Fernando, Camarines Sur have availed of the footwear-making equipment that DTI procured for them.

Tejada further bared that DTI, in collaboration with the Central Bicol State University for Agriculture (CBSUA), will soon put up a food laboratory testing center that will help local food processors improve the quality of their products, such as canned or bottled cooked food or wines, and prolong their shelf-life for more sustainable and wider marketing.

She admitted though that craft-making as a priority program has to take the backseat because of stiff competition from China which churns out exportable crafts and novelty items at much lower price.

On agribusiness, Tejada said there is a growing interest in the manufacture of flour from indigenous root crops such as camote, squash, and other similar farm products.

This is something that our farmers and investors have to look up to for more income and livelihood opportunities in the nearest future, according to the DTI provincial director.

On the issue of high power rates and unstable power supply, former MNCCI Board Secretary and power sector advocate Melvin del Puerto took the floor to present his proposal over the urgency of putting up a Metro Naga Power Commission.

A former department head of the Camarines Sur II Electric Cooperative (Casureco II) himself, del Puerto assailed the exorbitant power rates that the local electric cooperative has been collecting from its consumers that today have ballooned to over P15/kwh – “the highest in the power coop’s history,” he stressed.

He recalled that when power rate rose to P12/kwh sometime in 2010, irate power consumers in Naga and neighboring towns led by then Mayor Jesse M. Robredo marched towards Casureco II and banged its iron gates in protest.

“Why can’t we today?” he asked.

Patterned after the Power Commission of Palawan, del Puerto’s proposal seeks to put together representatives of various stakeholders, and concerned local chief executives, the MNCCI, expert resources and legal advisers, and member-municipalities, into a commission that will have the responsibility and authority to review and approve the coop’s power rate structure and any power supply agreement that Casureco II may enter into.

The commission, in order to have a stronger power and legal personality, will be duly accredited by the Office of the President, and such other government bodies such as the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), the Department of Energy, NEA, and the DILG, among others, as what was done with the Palawan power commission, del Puerto explained.

Del Puerto reminded that the ERC is mandated to ensure that power rates being imposed are “just and reasonable” and that Casureco II, as distribution utility, has an obligation to supply power “in the least cost manner” as provided for by Section 23 of the now much-maligned Epira law.

Realizing the urgency of the matter, the board unanimously moved to invite City Mayor John Bongat, the chair of the city Sanggunian committee on public utilities, and other concerned stakeholders, to discuss more closely the proposal in an executive session to be scheduled sometime next month. – Bicol Mail

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