By Brian Malambo
In the wake of increased demand for energy products and services, the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) while executing its regulatory mandate has formulated initiatives to improve its engagements with stakeholders in the energy sector.
The ERB has physical presence in Lusaka, Copperbelt, Muchinga and Southern Provinces. The offices at Head Office in Lusaka, Kitwe, Chinsali and Livingstone serve to ensure that that the regulatory mandate is fulfilled, but require additional interventions to broaden the regulatory footprint.
Therefore, stakeholder engagements are made with a view to enhancing the quality of services and products to all energy consumers across the country.
For example, the ERB Southern Region office in the tourist capital Livingstone has regulatory jurisdiction covering the entire Western and Southern provinces.
Pursuant to the functions outlined by the Energy Regulation Act Cap 436 of the Laws of Zambia, the office has a duty to ensure that the interests of all energy stakeholders are safeguarded and protected. This can only be achieved if all stakeholders are well informed about their rights and obligations and about major developments in the energy sector.
This is important in order to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions about the choices they have in the energy sector. The expectation by energy consumers for better quality services and products therefore demands more and increased awareness with regard to energy information.
It should be noted that in order to spur growth in the energy sector the ERB since inception in 1997 has continued to issue various licenses in line with its mandate. The licences so issued come with conditions. With that in mind, the regulator has endeavored to engage different consumers and other stakeholders countrywide to increase awareness for effective service delivery by licensees.
Of particular interest in the recent past is the increased demand for information from the traders and consumers of different energy products such as solar and lubricants.
To address the information gap, the regional office has deliberately and periodically held a series of different stakeholder engagement forums where a number of issues affecting energy consumers are discussed. This is in order to proactively address issues affecting the consumers and licensees in the energy sector.
Thus, there has been increased sensitization of different stakeholders including traders on the requirement for acquisition of trading licenses from the ERB to engage in of importation and retailing of lubricants as well as solar products..
To holistically bridge the information gap, ERB through the stakeholder engagement meetings, has directly engaged the affected stakeholders, by emphasizing the regulatory requirements in that regard.
For example, in the second half of the year 2018, different business houses cried foul after their transporters carrying energy products were impounded by the authorities at different border points across the country. The authorities demanded trading licences from those dealing in lubricants before the imported products could be cleared into Zambia.
As such, the ERB engaged a number of business houses in Livingstone, being a border town, to share information on the requirement for a licence for importation and retailing of motor vehicle lubricants.
Because many importers expressed ignorance about this requirement, the ERB through its regional offices allowed and granted/approved some requests for a ONE-OFF importation of such products.
However, the regulator advised that going forward all importers needed to formalize their businesses by acquiring the relevant licence from the ERB.
Similarly, a number of traders in the renewable energy sub-sector, specifically, solar energy, also expressed ignorance about the need for a licence from the ERB in order to engage in any solar importation and retailing business in Zambia.
Therefore, ERB granted a waiver on some solar products that are for personal use. The waiver was given after the importers officially wrote to the regulator and met all requirements to qualify for personal use.
It is also important to note that before waivers on solar products are granted, the ERB assesses the authenticity of the application through verification by way of a checklist which considers, among other things, the physical address for the applicant, proof of personal use, quantity of the solar equipment etc.
This is necessary because after the application is lodged, the ERB technical team conducts a physical inspection of the location to ascertain and verify the information given by an applicant.
Further, the ERB has identified key stakeholders and other government agencies such as Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEAMA), Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), Zambia Compulsory Standards Agency (ZCSA), Zambia Police, who are key in information sharing on such matters of public interest.
During a Government Agencies’ Collaborative meeting held in Livingstone on 14th December 2018 in Livingstone, ERB Southern Region Senior Manager Mr. Steven Mwiinga highlighted the need for collaborative efforts by all concerned institutions in information sharing regarding different consumer interests in the region. The meeting also presented an opportunity to create synergies and links among the agencies in the region. It is hoped that with continued collaboration with key institutions and stakeholders, energy traders and consumers would have adequate information that would help them understand the operations in the energy sector thereby aiding them to make the right choices and decisions.
The author is Community Liaison Assistant at ERB Southern Region office. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the ERB Toll Free line 8484 or visit the ERB website www.erb.org.zm