Keep things simple, affordable

Monday's report ("Customised price plans for electricity in the pipeline") said that consumers can look forward to shopping for electricity the way they choose a phone plan.

I hope consumers will not end up paying more when multiple players are knocking on our doors, asking us to switch our electric meters.

My office is within a technology park that used to be owned by the Housing Board. It was transformed into a business park real estate investment trust a few years ago, after which, the management asked us to switch to a bulk electricity provider, citing savings.

We never saw any savings.

Two months ago, we moved to another block in the same park. The new unit was already wired and powered. However, the electricity provider insisted that we appoint a licensed electrical worker (LEW) who would work with its own LEW to turn on its supply.

We were required to pay $588.50 for the electricity provider's LEW, on top of paying for our own LEW - all to "turn on" circuits and electricity supply that had been there for years.

Did such market liberalisation lower or increase business costs?

Will new players make things more complicated for consumers?

More importantly, how do we trust new electricity suppliers to provide accurate and transparent billing? With a new supplier, especially at the start, it is difficult to have the same level of trust as we do with SP Services.

Furthermore, an electricity supplier may make attractive offers to entice building owners to switch suppliers. There is no guarantee the benefits will trickle down to tenants.

Ultimately, the bills are to be paid by tenants in most cases, not the building owner. The supplier may even squeeze more from tenants to make up for the costs of benefits it had to give building owners.

Market liberalisation always sounds good. It brings in new players and may rejuvenate a stagnant market.

But policymakers must consider how things will really play out in the market, and whether liberalisation will benefit a few industry players or the majority of end users.

Things as fundamental as water and electricity should not make our lives more complicated.

Ben Chen Bin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Keep things simple, affordable'. Print Edition | Subscribe